One of the joys of going to watch rugby is the social element; the beers and bonhomie which bond supporters from both sides before and after the action on the field.Before comes the bragging and the bets; after comes the reckoning often accompanied by song, always by more beer. This is what makes rugby such a great game. The police can rest easy that, unlike football fans, rugby supporters go to the game to have fun and to build friendships.
Sure there might be a stray Welshman urinating in a flower bed or a Hooray Henry baring his arse while singing all 72 verses of Zulu Warrior but that is about as far as it goes. Rugby fans don’t stage punch-ups, just booze-ups.
Which is why I loathe evening kick-offs.
On Saturday I travelled to the Stade de France for France’s match against Australia. I was working which obviously makes the build-up different from being a fan on holiday in Paris.
But for all of it is a long day before the 9pm kick-off.
When it is a 2.30 game or 3pm, the fan can ease into the match with two or three pints and a sandwich, enough to warm up on but not so much as to be fally over. Said fan can even sneak in a sly one at half-time just to keep the engine running. Game over, the fans can then descend on the bars around the ground for a couple of hours as the queues for the trains die down before slipping into town to hook up with the lads from Gosport or Balmain who were going to be at the Frog and Ferkin or La Jolie Princesse later in the evening.
An afternoon kick-off makes for a perfect balance of beer and rugby with no logistical nightmares in between.
A 9 o’clock kick-off changes that. Longer hours drinking before the game, more hanging around, some real pressure on the bladder during the match and then a mad dash at the end to get the train back into Paris. As such the atmosphere of the game evaporates as quickly as an Australian front row.
On Saturday, the last RER train to the suburbs south of Paris left shortly after midnight. It was packed by supporters who had dallied for cleansing après-match.
For the journalists it was a nightmare, a rapid dash at the end of the press conference with no time to loiter in the mixed zone, which is where you tend the best stories and definitely no time for a swift ale.
As such, I would beg the French rugby federation to ignore the monied clamour of the television companies and refuse any future requests to stage matches at such a ridiculously late hour. It is blatantly spitting in the eye of rugby fans and their time-honoured matchday routines.
©Barney Spender 2012