Trevor Brennan’s Diary: How do you fit a rugby team into a mini (dressingroom)? Two in the back, two in the front, eight in the showers and the rest in the corridor.
As I pen this week’s missive, I’ve just emerged from a visit to a Chinese acupuncturist in Maynooth while home for a few days. My calf, shoulder and neck have all been at me and he’s worked wonders. But as he had me jumping around the room in agony he said in his Chinese accent: « no pain, no gain ». I thought I was a fairly hard man but this little fella broke me.
It had been a particularly tough week leading up to and including the Wasps match. Guy Noves had us training every day as he felt we needed it. Some of us were getting « lazy », as he put it. I was still slightly sore on Monday morning with the calf injury I picked up two weeks before so I didn’t train, but come Tuesday I knew I had to give it a go to be in with a shout for selection.
I knew after the two sessions that I’d be in the starting XV on Sunday. For all the scrums, lineouts and team runs I was in the starting eight. Even though he wouldn’t name his team until Thursday, all the signals were that those of us who’d been on the bench against Llanelli would be rotated to start against Wasps. You always get a feel for these things and that gave me a great lift.
The calf continued to be at me all week, so I just did what I had to. I’ve finally learnt after all these years that you don’t get any medals being a hero in training. When I’m 100 per cent fit I do give it everything. If I aggravated the calf I knew I’d be out so, for a change, I used the top four inches.
On Wednesday, myself and Aidan McCullen went to visit William Servat in hospital following his neck operation. We stopped off at a shop en route to stock up on magazines, drinks, sweets, etc for William. I picked up something from the top shelf as well as a rugby magazine, as did Aidan for a laugh.
When we arrived at his room, his wife, mother, grandmother and father were all there. It caught us by surprise and we hadn’t hidden the magazines. On seeing me holding them, William just started to laugh. Then everybody looked around and saw them so I just threw them on the bed and said: « Je suis désolé, tout le monde, pour les magazines ». They all got a good laugh out of it, even the grandmother.
I had a nice relaxing week as the kids had a two-week mid-term break over Halloween, so Paula and the boys headed back to Ireland for a fortnight.
Because people knew I was on my own, I was invited to various houses for dinner; Gareth’s house one night, my teacher’s another night, but I managed to cook for myself three nights. Not bad, and I cleaned up as well.
BANG. Here we were in London by Saturday lunchtime. As usual it was a top-class hotel, as it always is for away European Cup matches, unlike the French championship, when we stay in low budget hotels. I’m not complaining, there’s just no comparison with French hotels, which are very basic, even the good ones.
After a nap we had a run-out in a nearby park on one of three rugby pitches. There were about 300-400 people watching a couple of games on the other pitch, but when they saw who was training on the other one they all came across to watch us, leaving one man and his dog watching the two matches.
Later on we watched Munster hammer Castres, a good response from them after last week’s defeat to Sale, and Stade Français beating Leicester. What a dreadful game. On Sunday, match day, I managed to watch the first half-hour of Leinster against Glasgow before our team meeting at 1.30pm.
We were cutting it fine all right, and terrible traffic outside the ground meant we didn’t arrive until 50 minutes before kick-off. Our « away » dressingroom was a joke, about the size of a box room in a three-bedroom semi. No kidding.
I changed in the showers with about seven or eight other players and even then the subs had to change out in the corridor. You could see the heads dropping.
So I said to them, ‘no excuses. Everything had been good up to this, the trip, the hotel, the food, the training. Everything. Everybody knows that French teams don’t travel well, and we’ve been stuck into this box in the hope that you will let it get to you. This is a mental test of us and we have to be mentally strong, and again, no excuses’. Guy Noves had been listening and suddenly chipped in: ‘Il a raison, il a raison’ (He’s right). He continued on in this vein, saying this was today.
I was happy with the way we played generally and the way I played, but disappointed that we didn’t record an away win. There were 86 minutes on the clock when we had a scrum on their line and decided to move it. Turnover, they kicked the length of the pitch and then they had a scrum on our line. We were penalised for collapsing the scrum and they kicked the penalty to earn the draw.
That’s sport, but I can honestly say, after all my years in the game, the better team threw this one away. You can blame so many factors: the kickers for having an off day, the scrum, the referee for playing so much injury-time, but at the end of the day we had our chances and didn’t take them. No excuses.
Because the Toulouse coaches were coaching the French Barbarians against the Wallabies in Bordeaux last night and we had no match this weekend, we were given the week off. So I hopped on a flight from Heathrow back to Dublin and was collected at the airport by Paula and driven to Dunshaughlin, where we met up with some friends in a bar there called the Sibín.
It was good for me. I hadn’t a blow-out for a while and we saw a live band called High Voltage, with Pat McMahon the singer and lead guitarist. He used to play with a group called Mama’s Boys and is probably the best lead guitarist in Ireland. They did loads of rock covers: Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher. Sheer class.
Trevor Brennan’s regular Heineken Cup column can be read in the Irish Times.