IRB must learn their lessons from France v Ireland debacle
As the clock ticked past 9pm local time, and still the players hadn’t emerged from the bowels of the Stade de France, mumurs and whispers became voices of clarity: the Six Nations game between France and Ireland had been postponed, literally at the last minute.
It was at this point you felt for the marching band, who stood idle in the centre circle, ready to play La Marseillaise and Ireland’s Call. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, nobody told them the game was off, and alone they waited, bearing the burden of the ever-increasing volume of dissent emanating from the stands of the 80,000 capacity stadium.
A stadium that opened in January 1998, and a few months later played host to France’s greatest-ever sporting night, but was built without under-soil heating. Why?
Why is an irrelevant point now, however. The authorities knew of the stadium’s limitations, which combined with the freezing Parisien night meant the postponment of the weekend’s biggest game was always a real possibility.
France winger Vincent Clerc expressed scepticism during the week, even citing the dangers of the surface during France’s elementary opening round victory over Italy. “If it’s minus seven on Saturday, there is reason for concern. It was already frozen when we played Italy. The parts near the touchline were frozen,” he lamented.
If the warnings weren’t heeded during the Italy game, and Clerc’s words were ignored, the talk should have reached a crescendo during Friday’s captain’s run, or lack thereof. The covers had to be kept on the surface so neither Thierry Dusautoir nor Paul O’Connell could lead their men around the field of battle; neither Morgan Parra nor Jonathan Sexton could practise their goal-kicking, or get a feel for the angles of the stadium, something that would have been of particular concern to the visiting Irish out-half.
The flashing red light was still ignored, leaving many thousands of fans to make the trip from Ireland on Friday evening and Saturday morning, while thousands more made the six-hour journey from the rugby heartlands of France; Toulouse, Montpellier, Toulon and surrounding areas, only to be let down at the very last minute.
If there’s to be a lesson learned, it’s that scheduling night-time games, particularly early in the competition when the full bloom of spring has yet to emerge, is foolish. Indeed French television stations have since claimed they offered during the week to move the match to an earlier, warmer time, but the proposal was rejected by the RBS 6 Nations committee.
And therein lies the issue. Television stations call the shots here, they want matches to be played when people are watching television. Late kick-offs are a regular occurrence in France, particularly for high-profile games, domestic and international.
It was the supporters, however, that kicked off on Saturday night, with the cacophony of boos that greeted RBS 6 Nations Media and Communications manager Christine Connolly’s on-pitch announcement a clear indication of how high feelings had run. Let’s hope suitable arrangements are made to aid those who have to make an unscheduled trip back to Paris in the coming weeks.