Funny country, France. In summer it reached 45 degrees. Now, in winter they’ve had record floods. Mud slides in Marseilles, bridges and roads washed away.
A lot of the big rivers broke their banks. It’s rained solid for the last week and yesterday was the first day we had without rain.
It’s reckoned that 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. It’s been coming down in buckets, with no let-up. And this after they had 10,000 heat related deaths during the summer, making it the worse summer they’ve ever had on record for older people dieing from heat exhaustion.
Marseilles has no real history of floods but there, like elsewhere in the south, houses have been completely submerged in water, and roads washed away. We’re not too bad down here in Toulouse. Maybe there’s better water drainage.
My mum had been trying to reach me for days and when I twigged what it might be I wound her up good. ‘Jaysus Ma, I’m surprised you got through to me. We’ve had to move upstairs and the fire brigade are going around handing in bread and water. I can see the nieghbours across the road up on their roof.’ I had her going for a good while.
Having moved into a new house which we had built by last June, I only got round to starting the driveway with a neighbour yesterday. The rain put that project back by six weeks but I had the pick axe out yesterday. One of the sponsors’ is supplying the gravel at a reduced price. You just meet generosity every day.
For example, I went to my dentist this week to have my teeth cleaned out and get a new gumshield. I’d only met him once before and we’re fully covered by insurance, but again he wouldn’t take a penny. It’s not put-on or false. People just go out of their way for you.
The house was ready after we got back from our honeymoon in June. Yep, after years of living in sin myself and Paula decided to get married in Mauritius. It was a simple affair, with just eight of us including my brother, on a beach.
We had a party for 300 people back in the Springfield Hotel and, again, one of the sponsors sent over 60 bottles of champagne, aswell as a couple of magnums. You just meet generosity every day.
The story dominating the front pages of the sports supplements has been the talk of Barnard Laporte resigning. He’ll make his decision to stay or go on Sunday.
He says he wants to stay but that he also wants to spend more time with his family. He also has a lot of business interests, in casinos, nite clubs, bars and the like, and some of them are in partnership with ex-internationals and current players.
Bernard Lapasset, the French Federation president says he wants him to stay. Apparently the players want him to stay. Yet according to the lads here you can’t take everything that is said at face value. There’s a lot of politics involved.
Another year on then, and here we go again. It’s been a hectic season without the internationals. We played seven League Cup games and then three French championship matches without them, and managed to win two out of three without the lads.
The World Cup boys returned last Tuesday and you could see that they brought something back to the club immediately. Just a presence that was missing. The French internationals haven’t been available to their clubs since June 8th, before the tour to Argentina and New Zealand.
With them back we had a great win against Narbonne last week, by 25-5. Frederic Michalak was awesome. He executed the exact same crosskick in the first five minutes against Ireland; Emile Ntamack caught it and fed it to Vincent Clerc for a try in the corner.
His touchkicking and place kicking were first class, even when the 3-4,000 Narbonne fans started chanting Jonny Wilkinson’s name as the best outhalf in the world to try and put him off. He also scored a brilliant individual try from halfway. It’s great to have him back, especially with Yann Delaige injured.
Unfortunately I won’t be playing in Edinburgh this weekend. My last game was in a challenge match against Colomiers two weeks ago but in the team run last Friday I felt a slight twinge in my leg. An MRI scan showed a three to four centimetre tear in my quodricep and when I went to see the doctor yesterday he said there was a a slight risk of tearing it again.
I know I could play. I’ve played with worse, but Guy Noves is very good like that, and he’s not willing to take the risk of me being ruled out for three or four matches just to play one match. It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it goes, and this is the first of seven big matches in a row.
We won the Heineken Cup last year and lost the French championship final to Stade Francais, but the European Cup is still huge for the club. They’re both huge at this stage. You talk to some players and they say the French Championship is bigger. You talk to other players and they say the European Cup is bigger.
With Guy Noves though, it is always one game at a time. You wouldn’t have known the European Cup was coming up until this week, except for Sky Sports coming over a few weeks ago. They interviewed myself and Emile Ntamack, and did a training session and so on, but that was the only inkling you would have got.
But this week we’ve watched a video of last year’s pool match away to Edinburgh and today we’ll be watching a video of the Edinburgh-Connacht semi-final in the Celtic League.
It’s building up, there’s great interest here and all the newspapers this week have been cranking up their coverage, especially on games such as Bourgoin against Munster and Biarritz against Leinster. It’s all been about the European Cup this week and a lot about the final last year and how we won it.
We’ve had a lot of injuries, to Gregory Lamboule, Finau Mika, Yann Delaigue, Xavier Garbajosa, a long-term injury, and Sylvain Dupuis, a young up-and-coming scrum-half who’s suffered a broken ankle. But we’re still sitting on top of our French Championship pool with Perpignan and with the internationals back there’s a good old buzz in the camp.
My own dark horses for the European Cup are Agen and Wasps. Agen are very strong at the moment. Munster visit Bourgoin this weekend and that’s a tough one for them. Bourgoin have a very strong pack and Sebastien Chabal is a big ball-carrier for them.
Munster’s away record in France is second to none but Bourgoin lost 26-15 to Brive last week and that probably makes them more dangerous. Bourgoin have no big stars and they’re not a team full of style but in saying that they make you work hard for anything. I just can’t call it.
It’s funny to see Leinster taking their games to Lansdowne Road out of Donnybrook. It wouldn’t have been thought of two years ago. But I think Donnybrook would have been the players’ choice. With 7-8,000 people packed into a small stadium there’s always a great atmosphere and, close ton the pitch, it’s more intimidating for visiting sides.
Leinster have had a string of injuries but they seem to be putting out a very strong side this weekend and the backrow of Eric Miller, Keith Gleeson and Victor Costello may make the difference, because Biarritz are missing Serge Betsen although Ovidiu Tonita, who was Romania’s best player in the World Cup, has recovered from injury. A great ball-carrier.
Biarritz will be dangerous, because I’ll say they’ll be looking for revenge for the quarter-finals last season. They’ve a big pack, Yachvili is playing very well and they have Bernat-Salles and Brusque out wide.
It’s good to see people like John McWeeney back on the wing, who got a raw deal for the last few years.
And watch out for the bantamweight Barnhall Bruiser, Brendan Burke, on the bench. If he gets his chance I think you could see him playing in the green jersey.
Just watch his tackling, and his angles of running with the ball in hand. He reminds me of the New Zealand full-back John Gallagher, also red haired and skinny.
Everyone said he was too light to make the grade.
I went home to Ireland for a week for my brother Ronnie’s wedding on November 11th. I managed to meet up with Denis Hickie, Victor Costello and Emmet Byrne in Kielys, and was delighted to see a Toulouse jersey that I got signed for Pat just inside the door.
I also met up with the so-called balloon corps, Toley (Liam Toland), Coyler (Peter Coyle), Dave Quinlan, Johnny McWeeney etc in Keoghs in Camden Street.
Back in August, Toley and the legendary Gary Halpin came over here. They drove 900 kilometres on their bikes in one day down from Normandy and stayed for five days. We had a great laugh and it was great to catch up with them again.
I cracked open the bar-b-cue and had the swimming pool pumped up for the boys. Gazza was telling jokes and has us in stitches, so much so that the neighbours wanted to come in and join the party.
The old mates are the best but I’m in my second year here and I’ve never been happier, even though, when all of us were asked yesterday what were the highlights and lowlights of the last year, I said the lowlight was getting my first tax bill last week.
But the highlight was simply the French lifestyle. I’m enjoying it as much as ever and I wouldn’t want to be playing anywhere else.