Monday 18 December 2017

Brendan Fanning: A most spectacular cock-up

French Federation and Six Nations must shoulder blame for fiasco in Paris, writes Brendan Fanning

Ground staff at the Stade de France try in vain to defrost the pitch before last night's match was postponed. Photo: Matt Browne
Ground staff at the Stade de France try in vain to defrost the pitch before last night's match was postponed. Photo: Matt Browne

For what seemed an age in the Stade de France last night, the band of the Paris Fire Brigade stood centre-pitch waiting to strike up.

By then the crowd were whistling and booing, incredulous that they could be dragged as far as kick-off time and not be told that it had been a wasted journey. This was a fiasco, a spectacular cock-up that left both the Six Nations and French Federation looking like they were running a pub league.

Last Wednesday, France wing Vincent Clerc warned that the pitch -- which doesn't have undersoil heating -- was dodgy in spots as it froze up during the Test against Italy. That had been an afternoon kick-off. With weather forecasts for more of the same all week, the FFR persisted with the 9.0pm kick-off last night somehow hoping that even if the pitch was playable when the covers came off two hours beforehand, that it would remain that way for another four hours ie until the end of the match.

This is not being wise after the event, for many of us felt that what might start would surely not finish. Consider that the women's game between Ireland and Wales was abandoned halfway through in Ashbourne last weekend where the temperatures were a good deal higher that the -7C we had in Paris last night.

It got worse. With the crowd left in the lurch, we gathered in the press conference room to see what had unfolded in the final minutes. We were told referee Dave Pearson would attend to run us through his decision-making process. Then we were told he wouldn't be coming.

Next were the ground rules: there would be no questions, only statements read by a representative of the Six Nations, followed by one from the president of FFR. The first was translated into unusable English. The second was a rant from Pierre Camou laying the blame squarely at the door of Dave Pearson.

Pearson may not be the most popular ref with Ireland fans after his handling of the Clermont versus Ulster Heineken Cup tie, and then his advice to Wayne Barnes on the Bradley Davies/Donnacha Ryan incident last weekend against Wales, but it wasn't his decision to schedule the game at 9.0pm, just about the last time you would want if you are trying to beat the weather.

And it wasn't his fault that the pitch could not be presented, or maintained, in playable condition by kick-off time. For those decisions you have to look at the Six Nations and the FFR. The effect has been to rob supporters who forked out probably €600 for a one-night spin over here, between flights and hotel, of their Test match. And to put both the France and Ireland players at a disadvantage now because of the rescheduling. And they refused to take any questions on any of this in the period immediately after the game, when people were desperately trying to establish what was going on and what would happen next.

It is hard to credit how this could be allowed to happen. Declan Kidney was careful with his words afterwards, especially in regard to the referee -- the system, which clearly needs an overhaul, places all the responsibility on his shoulders. This was Kidney with one eye on the refixed game, when Pearson will surely be on duty. And one eye on those who run this competition, and last night reduced it to a farce. Dial 999.

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