France v Ireland, Six Nations
Blame game mars Paris postponement
February 11, 2012
A fan tears up his match ticket after the clash was cancelled minutes before kick off © Getty Images
The battle for the Six Nations descended into farce in Paris on Saturday night with France's clash against Ireland postponed just 10 minutes before the scheduled kick off at the Stade de France.
Referee Dave Pearson, who was at the centre of controversy surrounding Ireland's opening defeat to Wales last weekend, made his decision after deeming sections of the pitch to be unplayable following days of sub-zero temperatures in Paris. The surface passed an inspection at 3pm GMT yesterday and 6.30pm tonight, but Pearson felt the conditions then deteriorated sufficiently enough to postpone the game.
The decision was greeted with a chorus of boos when it was announced 20 minutes later to a full and disbelieving Stade de France. Six Nations officials have confirmed the match will be staged during one of the tournament's break weekends, either February 18 and 19 or March 3 and 4.
The finger-pointing started soon after, with the French Rugby Federation highlighting Pearson's role while Six Nations stressed it was the official's decision alone. A shambolic situation was made worse when a Six Nations official refused to answer questions on what had occurred beyond reading a statement at a hastily-convened press conference.
"The match was cancelled following the advice of the referee Mr Pearson. He inspected it yesterday and all was fine," read the statement. "He inspected again today at 7pm and it was still fine but when he inspected it just a few minutes before kick-off, he found the pitch was frozen in a few areas.
"He ruled that it was dangerous and this is why it was postponed. It is very important to let fans know to keep their tickets and they will be valid for the game when we have a new date. The rule is the game will be played in a weekend when no games are planned, so either next weekend or in three weekends' time."
Pearson was absent from the press conference but FFR president Pierre Camou left little doubt over who he felt was responsible for the chaotic scenes. "It's very sad. I don't understand why the referee has not shown up," said Camou. "I am worried that two hours before kick-off everything seemed fine. I'm thinking of all the fans who have come from afar.
"We always 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 at 8pm. Today a Six Nations game in Italy was played in the snow and the referee was French."
However, former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan exonerated Pearson, claiming he was left with no alternative but to call the game off. Instead, O'Sullivan felt the FFR were to blame for an episode that "beggars belief".
"Obviously you can't blame the referee, he made the decision based on what he thought was best for all concerned. He had to protect the players," he said. "To consider there were 80,000 people at the stadium and millions of people watching at home and at the final moment the game was postponed, it beggars belief.
"If Dave Pearson had put the players on that surface and a player had got badly hurt, he would have to take the blame for that. He did what was right. There were no curve balls here. We've known for the last few days where we were, yet we reached this stage at the last minute.
"Ultimately it's down to the French Federation for managing this situation. Then it was left to referee to make the hard decision. It's hard to believe that the French Federation couldn't predict this outcome given the bad weather here hasn't changed in the last 72 hours."
Declan Kidney and Philippe Saint-Andre, the coaches of Ireland and France respectively, discussed the conditions on the pitch half an hour before kick-off. "We would have preferred to have played," said Saint-Andre.
The International Rugby Board later issued a statement in support of Pearson's decision to call the game off. It said: "Player welfare and safety is the primary concern for the IRB and its Match Officials and having witnessed and assessed the rapid deterioration of the playing surface between the final pitch inspection and the scheduled kick-off time, and following consultation with the match official team, both coaches and Championship organisers, Pearson deemed the pitch unplayable on player welfare grounds.
The IRB also clarified that it had no say in the re-scheduling of the fixture. "The RBS 6 Nations is not under the jurisdiction of the IRB and all questions relating to rescheduling of the fixture should be directed to the Six Nations Committee."
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