Saturday 17 March 2018

IRFU fume as Six Nations cave in to French clubs

Referee Dave Pearson speaks Ireland coach Declan Kidney as the match is called off. Photo: Getty Images
Referee Dave Pearson speaks Ireland coach Declan Kidney as the match is called off. Photo: Getty Images
The crowd look on as an announcement is made to call off the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland fans react to the cancellation of their RBS Six Nations match at the Stade de France. Photo: PA
Ireland head coach Declan Kidney speaking with referee Dave Pearson before the game was scheduled to kick- off. Photo: Sportsfile

IRELAND and their supporters were left fuming yesterday after the Six Nations caved into French demands by rescheduling last Saturday's postponed clash for Sunday, March 4 at 4.0 (3.0 Irish time).

It means Ireland, who face Scotland in Lansdowne Road the following Saturday, have been left with another trip to France and a six-day turnaround in the middle of a run of four internationals on successive weekends due to a farcical postponement that was not of their making.

The IRFU had been lobbying hard for the game to be played on Saturday, March 3, but the Six Nations bowed to the demands of the French clubs, who have a full list of Top 14 fixtures that day.

France, as well as not having to travel, have the benefit of a seven-day rest before they face England on Sunday, March 11.

"We had to make a decision in the best interests of rugby," said Six Nations chief executive John Feehan. "It is very regrettable and I fully understand why the IRFU are quite upset, but I don't think we had an option.

"We have tried to facilitate them to the extent that they will no longer have to fulfil any obligations after the game -- they should get home that evening.

"Many of the teams have to do six-day turnarounds, including the French. It is not ideal, but that is unfortunately what we have to do sometimes. We sympathise with the French clubs -- it is very, very difficult for them."

"We are not going head-to-head with the French clubs, who have a full programme on the Saturday -- they have already sold tickets, the TV rights are already sold and we could end up with a partially empty Stade de France which I don't think would be good for the championship."

While the IRFU merely expressed their "disappointment" in a short statement, they are understandably furious that the French clubs and TV revenues are the priority for the Six Nations.

The union's statement also made a pointed reference to the fact that the decision was taken by "the majority" of the council -- it is safe to assume the French and Scottish representatives were pushing for a Sunday kick-off.

The Six Nations did announce that fans who travelled last weekend and can't return for the refixture would be fully reimbursed with "the mechanics" to be outlined today.

However, a Sunday fixture is a further inconvenience for Irish fans, and it seems as though the French supporters took precedence, with no plans to help visiting supporters out with free transport to the ground or any other concessions.

"What we have decided today is a refund of the tickets, beyond that I can't comment," said Feehan.

"There are 5,000-odd supporters who come from Ireland and about 75,000-odd who come from France so we have to look at what is best for rugby in the overall context."

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