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Six Nations: Chaos reigns after French farce

By Hugh Farrelly

'French farce' has been the description of choice following Saturday night's postponement of the France-Ireland Six Nations clash at the Stade de France, and the fallout descended into further chaos yesterday.

After the ham-fisted events of last weekend, the situation was screaming out for clarity.

However, rather than the expected confirmation of a date for the refixture, the Six Nations deferred the decision until today, citing "significant logistical issues" and leaving a host of questions to be answered.

What was the official line yesterday?

The Six Nations Council had a meeting at noon and issued a short statement in mid-afternoon confirming that the game would not take place this weekend (February 17-19).

This was stating what was already known, as staging the refixture at such short notice was completely unfeasible, with Ireland correctly assuming it was never a runner.

The statement also confirmed that the council would be meeting at the same time today to bring resolution to the rescheduling and ticketing policy.

What is the most likely date for the game?

Saturday, March 3 makes the most sense and adheres to the Six Nations protocol of cancelled games in weeks one or two being restaged in weeks three or five.

With next weekend taken off the table, playing the match on the weekend of March 2-4 is the best solution, with Saturday the most likely day.

So why not announce that yesterday?

The "significant logistical issues" centred around the French clubs kicking up a serious fuss over the match being staged over that weekend as that would clash with a round of Top 14 fixtures.

This would have implications for the clubs in terms of revenue and accessibility to various international players, who would otherwise have been released to play domestically.

The situation was compounded by French Federation president Pierre Camou who, after an ill-advised attack on referee Dave Pearson last weekend, apparently promised the clubs that the international would be rescheduled for the end of the season.

The clubs' representative body, the League Nationale du Rugby (LNR), are now requesting that the game take place at the end of the season, with LNR boss Pierre-Yves Revol addressing a letter to the Six Nations committee calling for the match to be played in June.

Is this realistic?

No. The suggested date of June 9 does not take into account Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand, with Declan Kidney's side scheduled to take on the All Blacks in Auckland that day.

The other suggestion of September is also unrealistic as, unlike the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, when Six Nations internationals were deferred to the autumn, this is not a health and safety issue and there is a window available.

Where do Ireland stand?

Ireland, who were understandably against the game going ahead next weekend, are in favour of Saturday, March 3 as the best date.

The French Federation may prefer to hold the game on Sunday, March 4, but this would mean a six-day turnaround for Ireland ahead of the clash with Scotland on Saturday, March 10.

The fact they will be travelling back from France, again, will further affect Ireland's preparation and, while they accept this postponement will require them to play four Tests on successive weekends, they are strongly in favour of having at least seven days between each game, which would be the case with a March 3 rescheduling.

France play England on Sunday, March 11, so do not have six-day turnaround concerns.

Does this affect Irish preparation for Italy?

The squad were due to have a two-day training camp in Belfast, starting tomorrow, but that has been cancelled in favour of a one-day get-together

involving a 30-man squad in Carton House tomorrow.

With a three-week gap between the Wales and Italy matches, there is also the issue of players needing game- time, and Declan Kidney has taken the sensible decision of releasing everyone bar the starting XV for last weekend back to their provinces to play in this weekend's Pro12 fixtures.

Ireland could do without any further injury complications after this weekend.

What about the ticketing issues?

An estimated 4,800 Irish supporters who acquired their tickets through IRFU channels were in the Stade de France last Saturday.

If supporters are prepared to travel over for the refixed match, their original tickets will be valid. However, as is likely to be the case in many instances, if the costs of a second trip to Paris are prohibitive, fans will have to seek repayment from the club or official agent where they purchased the ticket, who in return will seek refunding from the IRFU.

The Irish union, in turn, should be compensated by the French Federation, but the FFR are insisting that there will be no refunds on the basis that the tickets are still valid -- a grossly unfair stance given the financial impositions involved in the game being cancelled on France's watch.

Any more fallout from the debacle?

The French Federation have clarified their position regarding the timing of their announcement that the match was not going ahead.

Much criticism has focused on the decision not being announced until a few minutes before the scheduled 9.0 kick-off, but the FFR say that if it had been made at 8.20 or 8.30, there could have been crowd control issues as thousands of supporters would have been exiting the stadium at the same time as others were trying to gain entry.

Also, the Six Nations have disputed claims by a French TV journalist that they turned down a request by the television companies to have the match staged at 3.0. The Six Nations are adamant that an official offer was never made.

What needs to happen now?

A clear, unequivocal announcement today that the game will go ahead on Saturday, March 3.

The French clubs may have their objections, but the FFR have authority over their players during international windows and there can be no more examples of individuals such as Camou complicating the issue by making knee-jerk promises.

Finally, the lessons of last Saturday night and last week need to be learned so that there will be no danger of a repeat of this debacle in what is supposed to be one of rugby's flagship tournaments.

Belfast Telegraph


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