THURSDAY

Guy Noves names the team to play against the Neath-Swansea Ospreys. He gives us a few words about how important this game is. If we are to come out on top of this group we are going to have to win this match.
He tells us that according to the Swansea media and website, we are the Real Madrid of European rugby, so during training the lads start joking about which Real Madrid player each of us is. One fella is Figo, another is Beckham and as I’m wearing number 5 again against the Ospreys it turns out that I’m Zinedine Zidane.
However the lads reckon this couldn’t be possible. They’re saying that the only place they can find for me in the Real Madrid set-up is as head of security. They couldn’t even find a place for me on the bench in a team full of stars.
We fly to Bristol in one of those small 50 or 60 seater jobs. This is followed by a two-and-a-half hour bus journey to Swansea as we hit peak traffic. About half-way through this drive some of the lads have had enough and start slagging off the management.
“Real Madrid me arse,” or words to that effect. The lads say the club are doing this trip on the cheap, rather than hiring a charter and flying in to Cardiff. During this bus journey, my brother texts me to tell me that the Barnhall Bantamweight, Brendan Burke, is in the Leinster team for his first Heineken Cup start against Sale on Sunday and obviously I’m delighted for him.
We arrive in the Holiday Inn in Swansea and head straight to the car park for a few stretches and throw a few balls around. After that, when I look out of my hotel window to see what the view is like the first thing I see is Barons’ bar and nite club, and I laugh to myself.
A few years ago Mike Ruddock took Leinster to Wales on a couple of pre-season tours and on one of them, when we arrived in Swansea, he took us straight to Barons for the night. It’s the kind of place you would take your daughter, or wife, or mother or grandmother to; one of those real spit-on-the-floor bars cum nite club. 


FRIDAY


After the petit dejeuner I ask the waitress where I can get my hair cut and she tells me that there’s a unisex salon next door in the hotel. I go in there and it’s great to hear the old English lingo. No hand signals here, I think to myself. I ask the girl for a number two on the sides and back, and a bit off the top.
It’s a disaster from the word go. First she tried the two on the side with a scissors so I ask does she not have any blades. I knew that I was in trouble when she had to ask one of the other girls how to change the blades. About half an hour later she had the cheek to charge me ST£18. Honestly, after that experience, I wouldn’t let her cut my garden.
I had to get Finau Maka, aka Jimmmy Hendrix, to cut my hair with a clippers. You wouldn’t think he’d be much of a hairdresser from the head on him but he cuts his brother’s hair quite a lot, if not his own.
After that I had a walk around town with Jimmy Hendrix to help kill the time as it’s a late kick-off, 7.45. I show Finau around the town and the various places and bars I’d been to with the Leinster team. After two pre-seasoin camps there you get to know the place like the back of your hand.
The match started well for us and by half-time we had four tries and the bonus point to lead by 29-6. We played the way we trained on the previous Tuesday, keeping the ball alive.
But I had a bit of double vision from a bang on the head in the first-half and so I was subbed early in the second-half. We actually lost the second-half 5-0, which wasn’t very good. It’s not really good enough to go a half without scoring and we could have let a few more tries in but for our defence.
On the bus drive back to the hotel in Swansea from Neath, where the match ws played, it’s cold and wet and about minus 5 degrees outside and it’s amazing. The lads can’t get over what the women are wearing, or more to the point what they’re not wearing.


SATURDAY


We have our recovery session in the pool at the Holiday Inn. Then breakfast is bacon, eggs, sausages, hash browns, the full works. It’s been a while since I’ve had a breakfast like this, and it’s better than the old crossaints any day.
I have about seven sausages and a dozen slices of bacon. As I tuck in, the lads are looking at me like I’m from another planet. “It’s not every day you have this lads.” I’m nearly thinking of getting a takeaway.
We arrive back in Toulouse airport at about 5.00 and I head straight home to watch the Munster-Gloucester match on Sky Sports. It’s a great game and the hype seems to have been huge for it. I even had people ringing me from Ireland looking for tickets.
It was understandable enough when Toulouse were at home to Munster in the semi-finals last year, but for a Munster-Gloucester match in Thomond Park and me in Toulouse? “Are you for real?” I reckon they could have sold this match out twice over.
I was very, very impressed with the display of the Munster forwards especially, and Mike Mullins is running around the place like a spring chicken, breaking the gain line and openin gup gaps for other players such as John Kelly.


SUNDAY


We have a load of Irish people over to watch the Leinster-Sale game. It’s good to see all the lads playing and especially Brendan Burke start his first big game. I thought he played very well and scored a great try. Gordon D’Arcy is clearly on fire, bouncing off players in the tackle and creating space for others. With Brian O’Driscoll, Denis Hickie and Geordan Murphy injured, it’s going to be very interesting with himself and Mike Mullins knocking on the door of the Irish squad for the Six Nations.
Speaking of injuries, France have their fair share at the moment, and don’t look to be too good at second row for the start of the Six Nations against Ireland. Fabien Pelous still hasn’t played since the injury he picked up for us against Biarritz three or four weeks ago and is fighting against time.
Jerome Thion, Fabien’s secondrow partner in the World Cup, is gone for six months with the exact same injury Denis Hickie has after snapping his achilles tendon. David Auradou, who plays with Stade Francais, is gone for three months with a calf injury which he picked up against Ulster. Olivier Brouzet, who was also at the World Cup, had to come home early from Australia and have a shoulder operation.
So France may have to look at the likes of Pascal Pape, an uncapped 23-year-old who plays for Bourgoin, or David Couzinet from Biarritz. An outside bet would be our own David Gerard.



MONDAY, TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY


There you have it. We have it all to do this weekend. We must get a win away to Leeds to have a sell-out game at home to Edinburgh and have a shot at getting first place in our pool.
But, one game at a time. We really have to win this Sunday in Leeds. We’ll travel on Saturday and we’ve trained hard this week. We’ve had two physical contact sessions on Tuesday and on Wednesday, and picked up a few more slight injuries. Yannick Bru has a neck problem and William Servat a dead leg, while Jean-Baptiste Poux and Patrice Collazo have back problems but these are the risks you have to take with contact sessions. You have to do the work.
I’m likely to be in the row again for the third match in succession. So I’m getting plenty of experience there for the French game if Eddie needs me. He could do worse.