James Hart is unlikely to forget the events of the weekend in the Top 14 match between Oyonnax and Grenoble in which he observed at close-hand an opposition player calling the match referee "a son of a whore" (translation) and briefly lost the feeling in his right shoulder, arm, hand and fingers.
The 24-year-old Clontarf-born scrumhalf was a couple of feet away when Oyonnax wing Silvère Tian, on receiving a yellow card, insulted referee Romain Poite in the 71st minute, only to be immediately shown a red card.
Tian’s anger continued after the final whistle when he had to be restrained from remonstrating again with Poite.
Hart explained the context of the incident. “Basically, we were on attack and there was a six-on-three in our favour in terms of attackers to defenders inside their 22. He [Tian] dived on the ball, blatantly off his feet, and I was communicating this to the referee.
“Romain Poite said, ‘you’re off your feet, it’s a blatant penalty and a yellow card.’ Tian responded with a phrase [in French] that translates, “you’re tripping. There was nothing in it.’”
Poite said subsequently to French newspaper Midi Olympic that the 35-year-old Tian told him, ‘I’ll nab you, son of a bitch,’ before adding further ‘niceties’.
Hart continued: “If I am walking down a street and turn around to you and say ‘son of a bitch,’ it doesn’t sound that bad, whereas in France it is a big insult. It’s much stronger than in English. If you break it down, it is ‘son of whore’, so it is not really son of a bitch.
“I was told that it is not really his style to do what he did. The whole situation with the club doing badly and losing the game, he just flipped out and insulted the referee, pretty badly to be honest.
"I have played against him a few times and watched him on television and know that he plays with a lot of emotion. His old coach, now in charge at Castres, Christophe Urios was on television, saying that it was completely out of character. The incident was the main topic of conversation over the weekend."
Hart wasn’t around for Tian’s second outburst, post match – he did hear the commotion and thought there had been a pitch invasion – as he was in the dressing room undergoing a head injury assessment (HIA) following a freak, ‘friendly fire’ accident at the end of the game.
Stooping to pick up a ball at a ruck and in a case of mistaken identity, he was cleared-out by one of his team-mates in a way that shunted his head into the backside of another Grenoble player at which point he heard a loud crack.
“Initially I couldn’t feel anything down the right side of my [torso], from my neck down through my arm and into my hand and fingers. [I thought] my arm was paralysed and in a panic I looked down to see if I could move my feet. It was definitely one of the scarier ones. Gradually the feeling started to come back.”
An MRI scan revealed no damage to his neck or shoulder and he is hopeful, having undergone the return-to-play protocols, that he will be available for selection for Grenoble’s eagerly awaited Challenge Cup quarter-finals against Connacht at Stade des Alpes on Saturday evening.
Now in his fifth season at the French club, he’s endured a most unfortunate time with injury over the past 18 months, missing five matches at the start of last season with a back disc issue and then following a torn hamstring with a hernia operation that kept him sidelined for about 14 weeks of the present campaign.
He’s been back playing for four matches now and confessed he was close to tears last Saturday when he thought he sustained another medical problem.
He desperately wants to play against Connacht, professing a huge admiration for the progress they have made under Pat Lam.
“I love what he has done. You can see a close-knit team, who play for one another, with an absolute belief in what they are doing.
“There aren’t many star names but I know a lot of the players [Shane O’Leary was at Grenoble for a season] and respect the progress they have made individually and as a team.
Brilliant work ethic
“They play a super brand of rugby, have a good scrum, good lineout, are very organised in defence with a brilliant work ethic and I know it’s going to be a great game to watch because both teams like to keep it in hand where possible.
“Grenoble will start as slight favourites because we are at home but we’re well aware of how difficult a task this is going to be. I just want to be playing.”
Allez les verts Greening of Grenoble
Bernard Jackman A Heineken Cup winner with Leinster (2009), a Challenge Cup winner with the Sale Sharks, the former hooker won nine caps for Ireland and had two spells with Connacht as a player. After hanging up his boots, he picked up his coaching experience at Tullow, Newbridge, Coolmine, St Michael's and Clontarf before joining Grenoble as a skills and defence consultant in 2011, from where he has worked his way up to head coach.
Mike Prendergast A 38-year-old former scrumhalf from the Young Munster club, where he enjoyed a stint as director or rugby too, Prendergast played with Munster, Bourgoin, Gloucester and Munster again before joining Grenoble as a skills/backs coach in 2013.
Andrew Farley This weekend will be an especially poignant one for the 35-year-old Australian-born secondrow who previously spent six years at Connacht (2003-2009) and also captained the province. He also played for the Ireland A team on three occasions, having won caps at under-19 and under-21 for Australia. He played for five seasons with Grenoble before accepting his current position as team manager.
Chris Farrell The 23-year-old former Ulster academy and Ireland Under-20 international has made himself the first-choice outside centre after joining the club in 2014. The 6ft 5in Farrell suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury and a foot fracture during his time in the Ulster academy but he's really kicked on with consistent game time in France and is very highly regarded to the point that he'll have a decision to take next September with his contract expiring in June of next year.
James Hart The 24-year-old, Clontarf-born, former Leinster underage representative and place-kicking scrumhalf joined Grenoble in 2011 at the behest of Bernard Jackman and made a massive impression. Injuries over the last season and a half have been frustrating but he's back challenging for the starting nine jersey.
Denis Coulson The 21-year-old former St Michael's College, Lansdowne and Ireland Under-20 loosehead prop is in his second season at the club and is making excellent progress – he has a contract to 2017 – regularly featuring in match-day squads as an understudy to former French international Fabien Barcella.