Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: New Ravenhill will shame Paris

Referee Dave Pearson with Ireland coach Declan Kidney ahead of the announcement on Saturday night that the match was off
Referee Dave Pearson with Ireland coach Declan Kidney ahead of the announcement on Saturday night that the match was off

The scenes at the Stade de France have resulted in everyone pointing the finger, looking to apportion blame. Quelle surprise.

However, while the arguments rage, it is possible to identify several absolutes.

Firstly, it was absolutely the right decision that Dave Pearson took. The English referee has come in for some stick in recent weeks but this was the biggest and best decision of his career so far.

Imagine the pressure he must have been under, having deemed the surface playable earlier on that day - TV people jumping up and down, French Federation officials probably baying for the game to go ahead, 80,000 paying spectators in the stadium and the teams warming up.

The far easier decision would have been to let the game go ahead. But Pearson’s first and overriding responsibility is a duty of care to the players and he exercised this responsibility in exactly the right way.

Secondly, it is absolute nonsense that a stadium like the Stade de France does not have undersoil heating. With the multi-millions that will have been invested in the superstructure, this additional feature would not have cost much extra.

Far more will likely have been lost as a result of the match not going ahead.

We are the last people who can be blamed — the new Aviva Stadium has state-of-the-art undersoil heating and irrigation, and even Ravenhill is likely to have something similar. France is toute seule on this one.

It was interesting to hear that French wing Vincent Clerc had mooted the idea earlier on in the week that the game might just be in doubt. Put that together with the weather forecast and it is quite likely there was the tiniest of question marks.

I remember such a scenario myself well. In rugby terms, 2001 was my year. In the Six Nations I played in the first match against Italy and set up a try for Rob Henderson.

The following week I started in Ireland’s home victory over France and was selected on the Wednesday of the following week to play against Wales.

In my head it was three selections down, two to go, and a full Six Nations campaign — for me, a heck of an achievement.

However, I hadn’t counted on the foot and mouth crisis which was about to decimate sporting fixtures across Britain and Ireland. It was all over the papers but the players were reassured that the match would go ahead and it was business as usual.

The team announcement signals the real focus — it makes it real. As it turned out, late on the Thursday afternoon, word came through that the match was off. Not only that, but the rest of the Six Nations had to be postponed until further notice.

In terms of the tournament, I was completely gutted. Not playing Wales evoked the most acute sense of anti-climax.

While the players shrugged their shoulders and joked, everyone felt totally flat, and that was a full two days before the fixture. Imagine the feeling on Saturday night.

This is why the match between France and Ireland has to be played on the first weekend of March, rather than June as French clubs have suggested.

If it takes place much later, it sucks all the drama out of the tournament and renders success or failure irrelevant.

The players will want things to move along quickly, as so much can change, whether injury or selection changes.

By the time ‘my’ match against Wales took place in October, I was no longer in the team.

Ironically that might actually suit Declan Kidney, as the Irish coach might well have woken up on Sunday morning with two defeats in two games.

As it stands he has invaluable extra time with his squad.

While four games in successive weeks is challenging, the prospect of facing Italy at home in the next match will surely be all the more palatable for an Irish coach who must be feeling the pressure.

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