Sunday 26 March 2017

David Kelly: Icy chill cuts through Six Nations' credibility

David Kelly

David Kelly

Rugby's assumption of smugness, so often paraded narcissistically in the face of uglier cousins of the round-ball variety, was left hopelessly exposed by the shambolic events that unfolded in the Stade de France.

When it comes to sheer arrogance, assuming one can trump the untameable vicissitudes of Mother Nature requires a substantial degree of conceit.

The perennial recklessness of shunting their fixtures, with the sole desire to improve the bottom line at the very expense of those who attend their games, was always fated to ultimately result in such a Feydeau farce.

For this is what happens when accountants and marketing men become the new curators of the sport.

If something like this occurred in the League of Ireland, it would receive a predictable torrent of easy-target fire.

But this is the big time, folks. Many important people in shiny suits and with impressive sounding job titles are paid handsome bucks to ensure that this gig does not turn out as if helmed by a group of eight-year-olds.

And, as is normally the way of such things, the customers were left out in the cold. Literally.

The irony that friends watching on TV from the comfort of an Irish pub or living room knew the game was postponed before anyone in the Stade de France reflected the misplaced priorities of those in charge.

On this occasion, though, the god of TV could not emerge triumphant against the all-powerful deities who control the weather.

And on Saturday night, the exposed victims were everywhere to see.

There was the unfairly lampooned Dave Pearson, whose judgment of spear tackling may remain radically askew, but whose recognition of a potentially ruinous sporting environment was entirely sound.

Sadly, there were none of the highly-paid shiny suits on show afterwards. Accountability was allowed to selfishly defer elsewhere -- to Pearson or, most egregiously, a Six Nations spokeswoman named Christine Connolly.

Poor Christine was hopelessly exposed -- it reminded one of the late, lamented FAI press officer Brendan McKenna being harangued post-Saipan when the blazers ducked for cover.

For her to be instructed to deliver the bad news while standing on the pitch was quite galling. It reveals the lack of moral fibre coursing through the pulse of the Six Nations committee.

Sadly, it also does not reflect well upon the stewardship of CEO John Feehan who, as an Irishman, must surely have had an inkling of the distress this farce caused so many of his compatriots.

Invidious

The coaches and players, on behalf of whom Pearson alone was given the onerous task of accepting responsibility, were placed in an equally invidious position and, as usual, were not entitled to involvement in the process.

That much was made clear last Wednesday when Vincent Clerc's assertions that a frozen pitch was unlikely to defrost in the absence of tropical sun were dismissed by the authorities.

It is clear that the French coach Philippe Saint-Andre would have preferred the game to go ahead, or at least start. Declan Kidney, as his body language suggested in the hour before the slated kick-off, did not. Players, psychologically primed for a sporting war, were suddenly leashed.

Were this the Heineken Cup, the host would have been duty-bound to locate a venue yesterday afternoon in which to play the fixture. Did this scenario ever prompt a discussion in the luxurious committee rooms of the Dublin-based Heineken Cup and the Six Nations officials?

Or are such seemingly trivial concerns beyond the grasp of multiple committees?

The French TV authorities' claim that they had agreed to an earlier, more sensible kick-off time on Saturday leaves the Six Nations hopelessly exposed.

If the French Federation were eager to comply with that request, the Six Nations deserve all the flak.

However, the French authorities have been slow to confirm that they would have been happy to move the game to an earlier, more traditional kick-off time.

Nevertheless, they are culpable for not being able to provide an adequately prepared venue, regardless of kick-off time and inclement weather, as their own player indicated four days before.

Should the game be delayed until the next free weekend in March -- as seems likely after French Federation president Pierre Camou revealed that playing next weekend is "technically impossible" -- the competition's reputation will be further shattered as the very integrity of the fixture list would be utterly undermined.

The French will object fiercely to playing on four successive weekends; Ireland won't be jaunty about the prospect either, but they'll take it. So much for player welfare.

Unlike the foot and mouth problems a decade ago that splintered the championship, Saturday's was an entirely avoidable problem.

The cost to the Six Nations will run into six figures but the damage to this institution will cut deeper.

If the Six Nations committee men were possessed of any decency and empathy for a paying public they treated with absolute contempt on Saturday night, they would attempt to offer some measure of compensation to travelling supporters.

Even a token gesture would be magnanimous, as mooted by Camou, albeit he said "demagoguery is not my cup of tea".

The Six Nations, it seems, does not do either tea or sympathy.

Irish Independent

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