James Lowe: 'Toulouse will bring chaos and mayhem but boys will be ready for it'
Howdy! I hope everyone had a safe, joyful Christmas and new year surrounded by loved ones. If there is anything that I appreciate all the more since moving to Dublin, it's that.
This is my second year away from home for Christmas which is tough to say the least... and it's cold! Back home, it's proper holiday season. None of this 'dreaming of a white Christmas stuff'. Nope. It's all about the 30 degrees, beaches and BBQs.
But the one thing I really do miss as I said is my family - waking up Christmas morning with a hangover, wandering out into the lounge wrapped in a blanket stinking of the night before and opening presents with my loved ones.
It's not so much about the presents anymore, more just the time spent together. I didn't realise this as much until being over here.
Since my last column my parents have been here and we spent a good three weeks together. We travelled around Ireland, drank Guinness, and chewed the fat with locals we met along the way. They had an awesome time and were grateful for everyone who helped them during their trip. They definitely made the most of their time here anyway.
In the early days of the trip I would finish training, get a phone call from dad asking for a ride home but by the end of the trip if I got a phone call after training, I wouldn't even have to ask where they were... I knew they were at The Bridge Bar enjoying the Guinness!
They made themselves right at home and had a blast. They even got to take in a game at the Aviva and then a week later one at the RDS. Two great occasions and class to have them there.
Since the last diary I have also been busy for Movember. We raised over €4,000 which is the eighth highest individual total raised across Ireland which is awesome. THANK YOU if you did participate in any way.
Mental health is an ongoing battle and raising that awareness and having that conversation was something I was very happy to do. Let's keep it up. You never know what someone else is going through.
Toulouse! Crikey, are we in for a treat this weekend… Unfortunately, I won't be involved due to an incident in the Munster game. Looking back on it, it was just one of those things but fortunately no-one was seriously hurt which is the most important thing when you have a coming-together like that.
So the impact on me with the suspension is pretty obvious. This is a game I'm absolutely gutted not be a part of as this will definitely be the game of the round.
One against two in Pool 1 heading into the final two rounds with both teams playing well. It's what everyone wants when following any competition. Something to play for and at stake as you head down that final straight.
All across the Toulouse team there are players who can turn a game on its head, create something out of nothing and score from anywhere. Which is something we as a team are well aware of.
Stu (Stuart Lancaster) has been creating absolute chaos during training to try and prepare the boys as well as he can for the incoming storm. Because that's what they are all about. Chaos! Mayhem! Loose play and balls kicked away with no pressure and then before you know it you're under your posts sucking for air.
Toulouse have scored more than 50pc of their tries from turnover ball so we will be doing our best to starve them of that source of possession. It means us being patient when we have it too and respecting just how hard it is to have the ball and then not give it away cheaply.
There is a lot also to be said for momentum and they have that. When they played us in Round 2, they had some bad results in the Top 14 and then were lucky at the end to beat Bath in Europe the week before.
But since then they've been unbeaten in France and in the Champions Cup. Nothing and nobody has fazed them and they've put up some cricket scores too on decent teams.
If ever you needed a wake-up call ahead of tomorrow, Leo (Cullen) and Stu and all the coaches have made sure we got it. Pull together a top five of the best Top 14 tries of the last few months and you'd easily pick Toulouse scores for all of them. They are that good.
The other thing with them is they are consistent. Traditionally, French teams aren't known for wanting to play away from home, but this doesn't seem to be the case with this Toulouse side. As I mentioned, since September, in France and in Europe, home and away, they haven't lost!
It's like that win over us, and the way they won it, kick-started their season. They have had convincing wins over all the powerhouse teams in France, even drawing to Clermont away from home (which is no easy feat).
What's also exciting is that this game presents so many challenges for both teams. But also opportunities. The pitch will be hard and weather depending it will be a fast-paced game.
Now we want the game to be fast... but not frantic! That's the balance we need to find. Frantic is what this Toulouse team will live off but if we can keep the tempo high, make their players work super hard when they don't have the ball, it should be a good day at the office.
If not, well, we could be in for a slugfest! Either way, what a game to look forward to and I'm gutted to be missing it. Anyway, it's an early start so make sure if you are heading to the game not to forget yah sunblock!