I’ve just returned from a swing through France where I was the TV Match Official (TMO) for games in Paris (Stade Francais v Crociati Rugby in the Amlin Challenge Cup) and Toulon (Toulon v Ospreys in the Heineken Cup). These were the first matches for the teams in this season’s competitions.
Stade Francais is renovating their normal ground (Stade Jean Bouin, near Porte Saint-Cloud in Paris) and played the game at Stade Charlety, which is over to the south-east of the city. This ground is more often used for soccer, but Stade will be based there for the next two seasons. Despite conceding a penalty after 7 seconds (the highlight for the Italian game), Stade won the game easily by 57-6.
The next day, I took a quick metro/RER ride from Gare de Lyon to CDG before taking an Air France flight to Nice. The RER is a very efficient way to get to the airport and its price (EUR8.70) can’t be beaten. By comparison, the taxi into Paris from CDG on Wednesday night cost EUR55.
It’s been a while since I traveled with Air France on an internal flight and it was nice to see that some airlines still believe in service and treating their passengers with an emotion other than that provoked by finding some smelly object at the end of a shoe. Air France still serve coffee, water (including Perrier), and soft drinks to their passengers, even on short internal flights.
For once, renting a car in Nice was stress-free as Avis weren’t swamped with renters and the drive to Toulon passed without incident. During the summer, renting from any of the large agencies in Nice Airport is a guarantee of a long wait amongst patient parents coping with kids who simply just want to get to their holiday villas or hotels and are willing to share their discomfort with everyone else. It’s not usually a pleasant experience.
Saturday’s game was the first that Toulon had played in the Heineken Cup (or “H” Cup as the competition is known in France due to the government ban on advertising alcohol). At game time, the temperature was circa 24 degrees C on the pitch and the old Stade Felix Mayol was buzzing with noise. The fans here are not slow to show their disapproval of just about anything that can happen on the pitch from a refereeing decision that they don’t like to a bad play by one of the Toulon team. I’ve had the unique pleasure of being pelted with all sorts of bits and pieces when coming off the pitch after I refereed a game between Toulon and Ebbw Vale (from Wales) in 1999 and the home team lost 17-18 (all penalties), so I was pretty accustomed to the noise and bustle.
For a team of stars assembled from all points of the planet thanks to a significant investment by the team owner, Toulon didn’t play well and rescued a late win due to one moment of flowing rugby right at the death to score a converted try to move the score to 19-14. The rest of the game was interesting but never memorable.
For the first time as a TMO, I was given a high-definition TV screen to watch the game. You might imagine that the broadcasters would be able to provide the best possible equipment to officials who may be called upon to decide on a match-winning score but that’s not the case. Far too often in the past I have been given a very old 9-inch Sony monitor that has seen many better days and been expected to watch slow-motion replays on it and make decisions. High-definition screens make the task much easier because everything is clearer, including important landmarks such as lines on the pitch. The photo below shows the normal setup provided to a TMO including multiple screens, communications with the referee, and a notepad and stop watch (my iPhone) to note things during the game.
Despite my snazzy high-definition screen, I wasn’t asked to make any decisions about scoring during the game, so the only real excitement I had was when I discovered that the stadium clock had “stuck” at 61:07 (second half). The clock is controlled by a timekeeper and the same time is used by the clock shown in the TV coverage. Teams use the clock to know the time within the game and how much they have left to force a winning play. Unfortunately, for some reason the timekeeper had failed to restart the clock after a “time off” and the clock remained static for a couple of moments before the problem was detected and the timekeeper restarted the clock.
Rugby isn’t like American Football and there’s no way for a referee to order the timekeeper to reset the game clock to a correct position, so the only thing that could be done was to revert to the older system whereby the referee and TMO work together to control the clock. The referee told both captains what was happening and advised them that they couldn’t rely on the stadium clock to know how much time remained for play. This was fine, but the crowd didn’t know what had happened and as far as they were concerned, there was more time to play than actually existed. The TV people weren’t too impressed either as their clock was incorrect and they couldn’t update it.
Given the passion of the crowd in Toulon, I think the place might have erupted had the final whistle been sounded before 80 minutes had been played (according to the stadium clock) and Toulon were losing. It’s probable that the Toulon supporters would have seen this as evidence of a conspiracy against their team led by incompetent officials who couldn’t even get the time right!
The players removed the problem by scoring the late try to win the game, so that situation didn’t arise. Ospreys quite rightly queried what had happened after the final whistle but were reassured when everything was explained.
Also in Toulon, I had the pleasure of meeting Michel Sicard for the first time in years. Michel was the match commissioner for the game, but a long time ago when we were living in France (between 1986-1989), he took care of a very young and inexperienced Irish referee as I made my way into the world of French rugby. At that time, rugby in the south of France was tough and brutal, especially in games played between teams from two villages close to each other. It took me a few games to realize that French local rugby wasn’t quite the same that I had been used to refereeing in Ireland in terms of passion, toughness, brutality, and skill… but Michel got me through the early games and I enjoyed my three seasons as a referee in France.
On a tourist kind of note, we stayed in the Novotel Gare de Lyon in Paris Best Western La Corniche Hotel in Toulon. The Novotel is a decent mid-class hotel in an excellent location to get to and from most places in central Paris as it’s beside one of the major train stations, a busy metro and RER line, and many buses. I’ve stayed a few times at the Best Western in Toulon and it’s also a good location, albeit about 2km from the town centre. The rooms are reasonable – but do ask for one facing the sea. As you can see from the photo, the view from room 25 is pretty good and there’s a heap of restaurants just around the corner (turn left as you come out of the hotel and walk towards the fort). After a good experience when we were there last year, we ate in the Lido de Toulon on Friday night and it was a major disappointment. The fish was just not cooked well and neither of the “suggestions de chef” hit home. We may avoid this place in future.
This coming week I am in Boston for the first of the Exchange 2010 Maestro seminars with Paul Robichaux and Brian Desmond. We seem to have a pretty decent crowd signed up for the seminar and I’m looking forward to it. Places are still available for next week’s seminar (Monday through Wednesday) in Anaheim, if you’re interested.
Never a dull moment…