Belfast Telegraph

Magners League: Icy weather puts skids on all the action

By Peter Bills

Winter tightened its icy grip on the weekend’s Magners League programme with three fixtures postponed yesterday.

Those affected include the Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons clash which had been scheduled for tonight at Ravenhill.

All week Ulster had been confident the Ravenhill pitch would be playable. The players trained on it on Tuesday, declared it to be in good shape and when the covers went on the mood was one of optimism.

“It will be fine,” was the confident forecast.

Alas not. With the freezing weather refusing to ease up and the Dragons due to travel yesterday evening, Ulster were forced to make a decision.

And following a lunchtime pitch inspection they had to concede that they were unable to guarantee the pitch would be playable.

The game will now be rescheduled with tickets for the match — when it goes ahead — being valid for the rearranged fixture.

Last season Ulster’s Ravenhill date with Ospreys also was a victim of the weather, with their meeting — scheduled for Friday, January 8 — called off, again due to the Ravenhill pitch being frozen.

The match was finally played on Tuesday, April 13, with Ospreys having forced a second postponement after insisting that they were unable to field front-row forwards for the fixture which had been rearranged for mid-March.

The Swansea club, who went on to win the Magners League Grand Final, cited “injuries and international call-ups” for their inability to raise props but the Celtic League authorities were unimpressed after discovering that the Ospreys players were, in fact, on holiday.

They fined Ospreys £100,000 and imposed a four points deduction — deferred until the start of the 2010/11 Magners League season — after finding the club guilty of misconduct for failing to fulfil the rearranged fixture on March 19.

In September that points deduction was suspended for two years, though the £100,000 fine stood.

The postponement of tonight’s game is a big blow to Ulster who were hoping for a third successive league victory ahead of next Saturday’s Heineken Cup home date with Bath.

Prior to yesterday’s Ulster-Dragons postponement the Connacht versus Italian side, Aironi, had been called off.

That Round 10 fixture was due to be played at the Sportsground but with no sign of the freezing weather conditions in the west of Ireland easing up, Connacht called the game off after a morning pitch inspection.

Connacht’s CEO, Gerry Kelly, said: “We are bitterly disappointed to have to call off the match but the pitch is unplayable at the moment.

“We are also conscious of the dangers travelling fans would face and though the forecast is for slightly milder weather tomorrow, with no guarantees of a thaw we could not run the risk of leaving a decision any later with respect to Aironi’s travel arrangements.”

Disappointed Connacht coach Eric Elwood said: “We were hoping to carry the momentum from our good performance in Edinburgh last weekend into tomorrow night’s match but we’ll use the extra time to prepare for our back to back Amlin Challenge Cup games against Harlequins now.”

The Magners League’s other Italian club, Benetton Treviso, were also spared a wasted trip when Glasgow Warriors informed them that the Firhill Stadium was unable. They too were to have played tonight.

Warriors chief executive, Kenny Baillie, expressed his disappointment at the decision.

“It is with regret that we have had to call tomorrow evening’s match off.

“The condition of the pitch was improving all the time, thanks to the significant efforts of our ground staff and the under soil heating at Firhill, but our main priority is spectator safety.

“With no guarantee of the weather conditions improving between now and Friday evening, we decided to call the match off.

“We were also mindful that Treviso needed an answer before their departure.”

Glasgow coach, Sean Lineen, added: “I know that everything was done to try and have the game go ahead but unfortunately, when everything was taken into consideration, common sense prevailed.”

Those postponed games now will be rescheduled by Magners League.

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