Ireland almost prevail despite French intransigence


WOMENS' SIX NATIONS:FRANCO-IRISH rugby relations appear to be at an all-time low. “We contacted the French union as soon as what we feared might happen, happened. We asked for the game to be put back to 6.30pm but, to cut a long story short, they totally refused. As the French only do. They knew we were in trouble and they weren’t exactly the most helpful union in the world.”

This was the reaction of Ireland women’s coach Philip Doyle following an experience that makes the men’s Valentine’s weekend in Paris seem almost romantic.

Ireland eventually lost 8-7 in Pau on Saturday afternoon, a remarkable achievement considering it followed the Irish players having had just three hours’ sleep following four hours glued to a bus seat and an overnight train journey.

The IRFU saw the potential for this messy scenario as far back as October when the French Federation announced the venue.

Pau is in the deep south, roughly halfway between Bayonne and Toulouse. Rugby country, as proved by almost 10,000 supporters showing up at the Stade du Hameau for the 3.30pm kick-off.

The game was initially scheduled for 6.30pm but the FFR changed that last Thursday due to concerns about the pitch. The IRFU asked them to reconsider this time on several occasions, the last of which came at 5.35pm on Friday evening when Ireland’s team bus was entrenched in Paris’ notorious rush-hour traffic.

The TGV to Pau had left the station but the answer, yet again, was a curt “no”.

The team flight landed in Charles de Gaulle airport at 4pm and despite assurances from the hosts that this would leave enough time to get across town, they missed the train by two hours.

Ireland team manager Gemma Crowley sourced an overnight train to ensure the fixture was fulfilled.

Considering the Welsh had already insisted the opening Six Nations fixture in Ashbourne be abandoned at half-time due to a dangerous surface on February 3rd (that debate is ongoing with Ireland hoping to play that match on March 11th), the players would be forgiven for thinking a hex has been cast on the 2012 campaign.

“Gemma did a great job, getting us on an overnight train but it was a horrible journey,” said Doyle yesterday.

“There were six girls to a berth and some were forced to share with the public. I stayed up all night walking up and down the two carriages making sure everyone was okay. It was horrific. It wasn’t a good place to be.

“We arrived at 7am on the morning of an international with virtually no sleep. When we got to our hotel we gave them three, four hours sleep, then woke them at midday, had lunch, a team meeting and then on the bus to the stadium.

“They were extremely tired going on to the pitch but, and I must stress this, these women are resilient in many, many ways. They pulled together and got on with the job.

“I couldn’t be prouder of them. They were astoundingly good.”