Six Nations: Ireland irate as Sunday rematch confirmed
The most talked-about non-event of the season – the postponed Six Nations meeting between France and Ireland, which would have gone ahead last weekend but for the organisers' insistence on a spectacularly stupid kick-off time – has finally been rearranged.
Needless to say, the traditional and entirely sensible option of a Saturday afternoon date has again been ignored.
The game will now be played in Paris on Sunday, 4 March, at 4pm French time: far from ideal for those travelling from the Basque region and still less handy for anyone flying from Dublin, even if it is significantly better than 9pm in the middle of a cold snap so vicious that Captain Oates would have stayed in his tent.
Travelling supporters, who occupy an ever lower position on the Six Nations Committee's list of priorities despite being largely responsible for giving the tournament its unique flavour, have good reason to feel exasperated. Those unable to make the new date – or, perhaps more to the point in the prevailing eurozone conditions, unwilling to splash out hard-earned money for a second time – have at least been offered a full refund, albeit belatedly, but there was still a widespread feeling yesterday that this should have been a straightforward Saturday job.
Certainly, the Irish Rugby Football Union saw it that way. "We're disappointed with this decision," it said. "While understanding the difficulties that a postponed game brings to the international and club rugby schedule, the IRFU had proposed... that the alternative date be 3 March with an afternoon kick-off. This was based on providing the Ireland team, who will be travelling for a second time to Paris, with a seven-day turnaround between its remaining four fixtures in the tournament. It would also have provided any supporters wishing to attend the rescheduled game with an appropriate window of travel."
The leading French clubs, some of whom have serious Top 14 business on the first weekend in March, are deeply unhappy at the prospect of losing their most influential personnel for yet another round of matches. Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse, the two clear favourites for the title, are scheduled to meet on 3 March – a showcase fixture that will now be shorn of Maxime Médard, Vincent Clerc, Aurélien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu, Lionel Beauxis and Morgan Parra. And that's just the backs.
The list of forwards not on view in that game will include Jean-Baptiste Poux, Vincent Debaty, William Servat, Yoann Maestri, Julien Bonnaire, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles. At the other end of the table, the fast-falling giants of Biarritz, currently in relegation territory, will have to negotiate a must-win contest with Bordeaux Bègles without Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili, the men who mean most to them.
Pierre Camou, the president of the French Rugby Federation, signalled earlier this week that the Ireland game, called off a few seconds before the advertised start because the pitch at Stade de France was close to frozen, should be held over until September as a gesture of goodwill to the Top 14 teams. He did not expect the idea to gain traction, as indeed it did not when the Six Nations wallahs gathered yesterday, but it may have earned him some diplomatic domestic brownie points.
It will be fascinating to see how the tournament custodians react to this embarrassment. After last season's version of rugby's "daft idea of the year award" – the decision to stage the Wales-England game in Cardiff on a Friday evening, thereby guaranteeing a 30-mile rush-hour traffic jam at the Severn Bridge toll booths – they wisely reverted to a Saturday-Sunday format. If this latest organisational pratfall has a positive side, it is that the next broadcasters to pitch for a late-night kick-off might be told to sling their hooks.
Meanwhile, France's coach Philippe Saint-André has opted to show his hand without further delay for the visit to Scotland a week on Sunday. Saint-André announced he would stick with the same players who prepared for the Ireland game, explaining that, as Yachvili was still struggling with his back problem, the former Leicester scrum-half Julien Dupuy would keep his place in the 23-man party.