Ruck and Maul: English referee gets cold shoulder again amid a lot of hot air in Paris

Hugh Godwin

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The Independent Online

For the second time in a week the English referee Dave Pearson was the centre of controversy, although last night when he called off France v Ireland 10 minutes before kick-off, with 80,000 inside Stade de France, it was a calamity not of his making.

Six days previously in Dublin, Pearson was the touch judge who advised Wayne Barnes that Bradley Davies's caber-tossing of Donncha Ryan off the ball was worth only a yellow card, not a red, as Ireland lost. Last night, shortly before the scheduled 9pm start, local time, he poked his head into the dressing-rooms to tell the players they had wasted their evening – along with an estimated 5,000 Irish fans paying hundreds of euros each for their trip.

Pearson was not allowed to speak to the press and the organisers only made a statement, refusing to take questions. France's coach Philippe Saint-André said both teams were ready to play.

Open since 1998, Stade de France is space-aged from the outside but it has a decidedly 20th-century lack of undersoil heating. No new date for the match has been set, but it will be on one of the fallow weekends, 17-19 February or 2-4 March. Booing spectators were told to keep their tickets – but not how they would fund new travel arrangements.

Vincent Clerc, the French wing, had reported areas of the pitch hardening in freezing temperatures well before the match. Covers and hot-air blowers were deployed all week, and they were on when Pearson inspected on Friday afternoon – a long way from mimicking the kick-off time. At 7pm the covers came off and, as was always the risk with temperatures that were true to the forecast, parts of the pitch were dangerously frozen, in Pearson's opinion, before the scheduled start of the match.

The French Rugby Federation president, Pierre Camou, said he was very sad for fans but it was not the Federation's decision. He pointed out, without necessarily criticising Pearson, that Clermont Auvergne had hosted a league match in chill central France and Italy faced England in the Rome snow yesterday afternoon – in both cases the referee was French.

Edwards' full-time focus is a lesson to any who would share Harry

There are nuggets of illumination to be found in the margins of Six Nations hullabaloo.

Take the Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, speaking to Sunday newspaper reporters about his defence coach, Shaun Edwards. Only since the end of the World Cup in October has Edwards been full-time in the Principality, having quit London Wasps after 10 years with the club. Previously he had the kind of job-share some optimists have in mind for Harry Redknapp with England and Tottenham Hotspur.

Edwards had maintained, since he began the arrangement in 2008, that such a combination was entirely feasible. "Oh I think that's a significant thing," said Gatland of now having Edwards available to Wales and their academies, youth and age group sides – and the regions, if they ask nicely.

"It's difficult to do both roles and sometimes you forget what period you are in with each team. The fact that he's just doing Wales now will make it easier. We saw that in the World Cup because being able to focus on one team in the preparation made a big difference. I've spoken to Shaun sometimes about the difficulty of going back, working with a club side, and then thinking that both teams were in the same situation in terms of what you've done. Really both the teams are in different phases, a different stage in terms of where they are mentally, or where they are in terms of their preparation. We've got him solely now and it's going to make a difference."

Premiership potters on

Wasps have slipped to second-bottom in the Aviva Premiership without their old head coach, though that may be as much to do with 12 players requiring surgery this season as the absence of Edwards's input.

Today they host the champions, Saracens, who have 18 players unavailable including eight current internationals and the injured Steve Borthwick and Ernst Joubert.

Keen to keep up their profile while the Six Nations is on, the Premiership have made their TV channel temporarily subscription-free this weekend. Go to: premiershiprugby.tv and use the promotional code 3705-FREEWKEND.

England expects too much?

Consider also the view expressed by the interim England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, on the poor display by England's clubs in the Heineken Cup.

As many including Lawrence Dallaglio have been arguing for donkeys' years, England are doing themselves down by spreading their talent too thinly. They may have hundreds of thousands more players than most, but how many are top class? And where was the sense in Jonny Wilkinson, when he was at Newcastle, only playing two years in the Heineken Cup (he had seven in the Challenge Cup)?

"It was disappointing not to get so many clubs through," said Lancaster, "but it is very difficult for them to fight day in day out, week in week out without that much depth and when you have got your talent pool spread over 12 clubs. That is a pretty important dynamic. If you said the top pool in Europe was going to be spread across three clubs or two clubs that would make a difference."

Anyone listening at the RFU or Premiership HQ?

Pickering's pick

The Six Nations chairman, the former Wales captain David Pickering, also gave a controversial prediction in launching this season's competition to the media. "In the last four years it has been won by four nations," he said, "and I am sure it will be no different this year."

We can deduce that he meant he was expecting a close contest. But taken literally, it was a tick in the box of either Italy or Scotland to take the title – and certainly a belief that England will not retain it.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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