AS IF LOSING away to Bordeaux-Bègles last weekend was not bad enough, I was struck down by a gastro bug on Sunday and was up hurling all night.
I have not been able to shake the bug all week and was confined to bed for three days. Valentin Courrent — our other main scrum-half — was injured in Bordeaux so I was in line to start against Clermont Auvergne but that is not looking likely now. I went down to the stadium for training on Wednesday but soon found myself completely out of breath. My legs felt like they weighed 100 kilos each. All I managed to do was sit in on a video review session of the Clermont defence. They told me to go home after that.
We have a team run today and, although they are never too strenuous, if I don’t make that I may not even feature on the bench for Friday’s game. It is massively disappointing, and frustrating, as this Clermont game at home is so big in the context of our season. There is a lot at stake — we are currently sixth and in the places for Heineken Cup, or whatever it is called next season, qualification. We also have ambitions of making the Top 14 playoffs.
One of the worst things about being sick is that I haven’t been able to completely get over that Bordeaux game yet. Normally, after a loss, you come into training on a Monday and go hard at it. You try to get the defeat out of your system.
It was hard, against Bordeaux, to come on after just five minutes. I was named on the bench for the game. I would normally think that, unless Valentin was not playing well, I would not come on until the 50th or 60th minute. You do your warm-up with the starters but your frame of mind is not as it would be if you were in from the first kick.
At Stade André Moga the replacements have to sit in the stands. I had just walked up the steps and had taken my seat when Valentin went down injured and the coaches started waving at me to get back down. Once you’re on, you’re on. I was straight into but, from the first play I was involved in, the signs did not look good. Our out-half, Blair Stewart, threw a pass towards Nigel Hunt [inside centre] but the ball was knocked on. Bordeaux snapped the ball up and ran from their 22 to ours, making crazy offloads along the way. We gave away a penalty and they kicked for the post. Jeez, I thought, this is going to be a tough night.Source: abdelhadi lafdil
We lost our first scrum, on our put-in, too and the same went for our first lineout. They have a New Zealander in their back row — Hugh Chalmers — who is one of the best lineout operators in the Top 14. He caused us trouble all night. I must have touched the ball three or four times in the first half which, for a scrum-half, is not an awful lot. We trailed 17-3 at the break but, for the amount of possession they had, Bordeaux should have been out of sight.
We talked at half-time about getting the first score and forcing our way back into the contest. One of the things the coaches are preaching to us is to keep sides out in that first 20 minutes on the second half. They talked about it but it must not have registered as we leaked two early tries. We scored two of our own late on but at that stage it was too late.
We try to get something out of every game. That 38-17 defeat does not reflect the ambition we have at the club this season. Some teams, when they are playing away, will piss about but we always want to achieve something.
Mathieu Lorèe looks set to begin at scrum-half for us tomorrow. He was with Racing Métro and Agen before and was a good signing for us last summer. He was set to deputise for Valentin until he was injured and I took my chance in pre-season. Friday’s game will be his first Top 14 start. Clermont have released a few of their French internationals for Friday’s game. They name their team later today but it should be Morgan Parra at 9 and Brock James at 10. Even without their top French players, however, they would make a formidable team. Any other Top 14 coach would cut their arm off to be able to call on what some call their second string team. Everyone thinks Clermont play such an expansive game but what they do is play with clarity. Every player knows their role and their style is so simple yet effective.
In many ways, Ireland are similar to Clermont. Everybody knows what they are supposed to be doing. If you look at France in their first couple of Six Nations games, after a few phases they seem to break down, with players going off on solo runs or passes going astray. Ireland are by no means perfect but they look like a team that can now grind out wins. It is like Leinster’s style, under Joe Schmidt. I now get the feeling that every game they play, even England and France away, they can win. I have the satellite TV set up now so I can tune in and watch the RTE rugby panel arguing and fighting over nothing. It’s great.
Rebecca, my girlfriend, is over for the week and she was more annoyed than me that I was struck down with this bug. She has been great, though, and has really helped me regain my strength and stay positive. They don’t celebrate Valentines Day as much in France as they do in Ireland so she had to remind me the day was coming up. I can’t think of a better present to give her that playing, and winning, against Clermont tomorrow. What more could a girl ask for!