Forget Paris -- fans left in cold after match called off
Irish incensed over late call on frozen grounds
THOUSANDS of Irish fans were left high and dry last night as the Six Nations clash against France in Paris was dramatically called off only moments before kick-off due to a frozen pitch.
There was considerable anger last night as fans who spent up to €1,000 for flights, match tickets and hotels for the trip were only told about the cancellation once they were in their seats in the stadium.
It was a lack of under-surface heating at the Stade France that led to the game being called off by English referee Dave Pearson, who decided that parts of the pitch at the stadium were not safe for the players. The game will now have to be rearranged.
However, the decision to only postpone the match right before kick-off time was lambasted last night, given that temperatures in Paris have been below freezing all week.
"One particular corner of the pitch was quite dangerous to play on so I believe the referee took the right decision," said Irish coach Declan Kidney.
However, former Irish international and rugby pundit Tony Ward declared the decision to call the match off at such a late stage a "farce."
"When the captain's run couldn't happen yesterday and the kickers couldn't get onto the pitch to practice, there is a problem. This is a big wake-up call for the Six Nations," he raged.
Sunday Independent columnist Neil Francis said that the manner in which the game was abandoned was a major embarrassment for French rugby.
"As usual the French, in their minimalist and laissez -faire way, did as little as possible to make certain that the match took place," he said.
The temperature at kickoff was minus -5 Celsius, with a wind chill of minus 11.
Huge jeers and boos rang out in the sold-out 80,000 capacity stadium as the players failed to take to the field. Stadium announcements were drowned out by the booing when they informed the crowd the match referee had called off the game.
There was also considerable anger that fans inside the ground found out the game was off up to 15 minutes after the news broke on television.
The postponement of the match is a huge imposition for Irish fans, who face another significant outlay to make it to the replay. Kevin Loughney, owner of Kitty O'Shea's pub in Paris, described the decision to call the match off as "pretty devastating for the fans who had travelled".
One Irish fan caught in Paris, Brian Grimes, said the mood in the French capital last night was "fairly grim".
"People back home knew the game was off before we did. We were in our seats about 10 minutes to kick off, the band were on the pitch ready to go. And then the announcement came the game was off."
Mr Grimes said he heard no announcement in English about ticket refunds inside the stadium. In the wake of the game being called off, France captain Thierry Dusuatoir took the microphone to address the fans. "Thanks to everyone for coming to encourage us tonight, unfortunately the game has been called off," he said. "I hope you will all come and support us next time. The decision has been taken, and now we will prepare for the next time."
Six Nations officials confirmed that the match would be staged during one of the tournament's break weekends, either February 18 and 19 or March 3 and 4.
Early speculation last night was that the preferred option was the first weekend in March. A final decision will be made tomorrow.
Within 30 minutes of the game being called off and moments after the first weekend in March was mooted as the date for the match to be played, Ryanair increased its fares from Dublin to Paris on March 2, from €69.53 including taxes to €152.13 for a one-way journey.
Declan Kidney was seen locked in intense talks with referee Pearson moments before the game was called off. He reportedly expressed grave concerns about several areas of the pitch being frozen solid.
Speaking moments after the game was called off, Kidney said the referee had made the right call. "We had no option but to prepare fully and properly for the match right up until the last minute. The guys are pretty pumped up in there. But I think the referee has made the right decision. I believe the game will be rearranged but whether it is next week, which is a real tight ask, or later is for the Six Nations to decide. International rugby isn't something where you turn up and go for a friendly jog around. But they're great lads and they'll settle down again."
Former Irish captain and BBC pundit Keith Wood questioned, given that the temperatures in Paris were below freezing all week, why was it left until the last minute to call the match off.