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Tell Gareth to give me a call.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

Irishman Trevor Brennan was the player at Toulouse who broke the mould - now Gareth Thomas is preparing to follow in his footsteps.

And the genial former Ireland and Leinster star has promised to take Alfie under his wing after this afternoon's Heineken Cup final.

The Irish second-row lines up for his second successive European Cup final with the French giants against Wasps at Twickenham.

But he took time off from his preparations to land a second successive winners' medal in Europe's top club competition by sending out a message to the man who quit Celtic Warriors for France just two weeks ago. Brennan, who has faced up and conquered all the problems that faces English-speaking players moving out to France, said: 'Tell Gareth to give me a call and I will look after him.

'You look after your own, if you know what I mean. I know what he is going to experience and been through what he is going to go through.

'But I will look after him and take him under my wing - that's what you do, isn't it? I'll help him find an apartment or house or move furniture or go to the supermarket or whatever.

'When you cannot speak the language, those things are tough, believe me.'

The thought of 'Alfie' and 'big Trev' teaming up in France at the Real Madrid of European rugby is a fascinating and illuminating prospect - talk about the Celtic Soul Brothers.

Brennan is a Dubliner through and through but he has taken to life in Toulouse.

Now Thomas has signed a two-year deal with Toulouse too, prematurely ending his contract with the now defunct Warriors, who were compensated by the French giants.

Brennan admits that Toulouse usually get what they want, and the fact they were so determined to sign Thomas is a huge compliment to the player.

The 29-year-old reveals Alfie was just one of a number of big names including Irish aces Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy who were on the French side's hit-list.

'They want the best,' said Brennan. 'Toulouse must have really wanted Gareth, to go and spend the money they have on him. They could have bought three or four players with what they spent on signing him.

'To buy him out of his contract just says it all for me. I know they wanted O'Driscoll and D'Arcy, but they do like players who can play in a number of positions.

'Gareth can play anywhere in the three-quarter line and that's probably why they signed him.'

Brennan left his beloved Dublin due to a lack of action with Leinster, the side he had played and grown up with.

It was a wrench and a gamble and Brennan has experienced all the pitfalls, including the language problems, being shunned by his team-mates and finding himself living in a rough part of the city.

'The language barrier is a huge problem,' said Brennan. 'I make no bones about that - the players don't really make an effort to speak English.

'They expect you to learn French. In fact, there were a couple of players who could speak pretty good English but I didn't find that out until I had been there for a couple of months.

'You're thrown in at the deep end. The first place I lived in wasn't too good, it was pretty rough and I often got lost, but you learn to survive. You just get on with it.'

And Brennan warns Thomas that he is just trading the goldfish bowl of Welsh rugby for a similarly intense scrutiny at Toulouse.

'The people always recognise you,' said Brennan. 'They always say bonjour and want to shake your hand.

'They invite you into their shops for coffee and cake, and it's because they love their rugby.

'You cannot walk ten feet without being stopped by somebody.

'They are fanatical about rugby, they have had 150 red and black flags on the city hall all week and just one French flag for the week leading up to the final.'

Brennan had the chance to sign for today's final opponents Wasps, along with Orrell and Pontypridd, before taking the plunge on Toulouse.

'I didn't fancy England and when Toulouse came in, it was just unbelievable,' said Brennan. 'It's a beautiful city, the weather is good and I have just signed for another two years.

'I still have people say to me I am a lucky so-and-so. They say I made the right move and I cannot argue with that.'

While Brennan obviously loves his life out in France where he has emerged a cult figure, his business is the rugby business.

And he gives an insight into the expectation Thomas will have to deal with in the Toulouse shirt.

'The record Toulouse has is fantastic,' said Brennan. 'What they have achieved over the last ten to fifteen years is staggering.

'They have done it all. I think Toulouse have won more league titles and French cups than any other side in France.

'Then you have the two European Cups and, hopefully, another one this season.'

Alfie will be hoping there is another final next season.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 23, 2004
Words:862
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