Saturday 10 December 2016

Tony Ward: They’re trying hard to find a scapegoat but French have only themselves to blame

Published 14/02/2012 | 05:00

The scene at the Stade de France on Saturday evening
The scene at the Stade de France on Saturday evening

Nine days ago at Lansdowne Road, Dave Pearson sold Ireland and the game short by instructing referee Wayne Barnes to issue yellow rather than red to Bradley Davies for his foul tackle on Donnacha Ryan.

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Pearson was wrong... period. But a week on, with the same two Englishmen at the heart of another controversy involving Ireland, this time the match officials -- specifically Pearson as referee -- called it spot on.

Let us be clear on that fundamental point: Pearson, in tandem with touch judges Barnes and Andrew Small, called off Saturday night's match in the minutes leading up to the scheduled kick-off for the sake of the players.

And their protection is and must always be paramount.

It was the right decision taken for the right reason, regardless of how frustrating it was for those of us there or the many millions more tuned in from afar.

But it should never have come to this.

Beyond the players, I feel really sorry for the many Irish and French fans who made their way to the Stade de France on the basis of trust -- trust in the Six Nations and the French Federation (FFR) that the match they had predicted with extraordinary confidence would take place, would indeed go ahead.

Sucker

Call me a sucker, but I too was duped by the sound bites coming out of Paris all week in the build-up that, regardless of anything, the kick-off would take place at the appointed time.

With respect to the Six Nations (and they are not exempt from blame) if you cannot trust the host nation that controls the upkeep of the pitch, then what chance do they have at all?

It's hard to believe that such a modern stadium -- opened in 1998 -- was built minus such an obvious fundamental as undersoil heating. Can you imagine if it was us here pulling the 'gas pocket' excuse about Lansdowne Road?

I remember playing in a 'B' international at Murrayfield well over 20 years ago, when the rest of the country was frozen solid but the Edinburgh pitch was in pristine condition because of the underground heating, way back then.

It is an absolute essential. But in the industrial heartland of Saint-Denis in Saturday's freezing conditions we were up the swanee and minus a paddle.

And that is the issue for me if anything positive is to come from this definitive French farce.

A system of regulation must be put in place whereby, when all meteorological evidence points to a problem -- like the captain's run and on-field session for kickers being cancelled 24 hours before the allotted kick-off -- then the authorities must act.

I genuinely believed the FFR were fully in control, such was the degree of confidence emanating from Paris all week. Now it has been exposed for what it was -- a decision to go ahead regardless, based on little more than desire and prayer.

They were winging it, hoping against hope that it would be all right on the night. Almost inevitably, it was not.

Of course the blame game is in full swing, with the Six Nations and FFR ducking and diving for cover.

My heart went out to Six Nations communications manager Christine Connolly, who was fed to the wolves when eventually making the postponement announcement on the pitch. But it was the comments of FFR president Pierre Camou which really rankled.

If the French are to be accused of the usual arrogance amid controversy, then this is why:

"We take responsibility for the pitches but we are not responsible for the decision to call it off. I'm not sure the argument of safety is suddenly a good one. Today a Six Nations game in Italy was played in the snow and the referee was French," said this FFR bastion of balance.

How sad, twisted and self-serving the logic.

This was a French gig on French soil fixed for a crazy time by the French governing body in tandem with French television. To say they were responsible for the pitch but not the decision to call it off is disingenuous in the extreme.

It is because of the pitch that Pearson had no alternative but to call it off at the death. This was their cock-up, full stop.

But if there is any good to come from it, then let it be that these mad evening kick-offs become obsolete -- late kick-offs make for a tough, long day for the players anyway.

I was talking to Paul O'Connell in the tunnel afterwards and he confirmed that it was not until a minute before Ireland were due to take the field that the referee came to their dressing-room to confirm the match was off.

Professional organisation from a so-called professional body in a professional age?

In addition, from now on if the captain's run can't go ahead, that must be the cut-off point, with alarm bells ringing.

We will never have control over the elements, so erring on the side of caution is the only acceptable way to go.

Even in the absence of any viable Plan B, Plan A should be aborted in extreme climatic circumstances, thereby providing a 24-hour window for alternative planning.

What happened on Saturday (where the inevitable transpired) should never be repeated -- let that be the lesson going forward for the Six Nations and all the participating unions.

And please may we be spared the type of verbal muck emanating from merde-stirrers like Monsieur Camou.

The referee (and it matters not a whit what country he is from) made the only decision he could, leaving the Six Nations and French Federation to sort out this mess of their making.

Barring a natural disaster, it must never be allowed happen again.

Irish Independent

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