Nottingham Rugby: Clash in Jersey should have been called off earlier
NOTTINGHAM Rugby returned from their first ever trip to Jersey with a bitter taste in their mouths, following a controversial weekend in the Channel Islands.
The Green and Whites had been hoping to get back to winning ways in their quest for the play-offs this season, but instead found themselves at the centre of a dispute over Jersey's pitches.
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The squad, along with almost 150 Greens fans, made the journey for what was supposed to be an historic occasion – as the first clash between the two sides on Jersey soil.
But rather than a war or attrition on the field, it was a war of words off the pitch that was seen – after the match was called off just an hour and a half before kick off on Saturday.
After flying over on Friday, Nottingham were made aware their opponents' first, second and third pitches at the St. Peter ground were unplayable and the decision was taken to move the clash onto one of the club's training pitches.
"We had no problem playing on the back field," reflected Greens head coach Martin Haag in the aftermath.
"But we looked at the pitch on Friday evening and it was not playable and looked at it again on Saturday morning and we didn't think it was playable.
"The referee made the call having consulted both captains. They did not agree but he had the final say. The referee said it was unplayable on the morning and gave Jersey time to rectify it, but there was not enough time.
"Elements of the field were superb. But a few areas of the pitch, that were about 15-metres wide, you put your foot in the mud and it would go over the boot – so large areas were unplayable.
"We backed the referee's decision 100 per cent. Health and safety has to come into it, especially when you've got 16 blokes in a small area (in a scrum) – but it was all a bit of a farce unfortunately.
"It's unfortunate as we were desperate to play and get back in form after the defeat the week before and spirits were high as we had trained well."
After the announcement that the game had been postponed, Nottingham and, in particular, Haag and skipper Brent Wilson came in for criticism from some quarters in Jersey – who were happy for the game to go ahead – and also on social networking site Twitter.
Director of rugby Ben Harvey even commented in the local media in Jersey, saying: "We don't really understand why Nottingham didn't want to play."
A club statement said: "Following representations to the match officials from the Nottingham camp, an inspection was held at 1.30pm and the referee ruled that a small part of the playing surface was unplayable.
"JRFC are very disappointed by the way events have unfolded".
But Haag added: "In hindsight it should have been called off earlier. If the game had been called off earlier in the week we would not have been in this situation.
"We were told that pitch one, two and three were all unplayable and they were going to try to play on pitch four – but that was also unplayable and we told the referee this.
"I'm really sorry for the supporters. If it had been called off earlier in the week maybe they could have got their money back or deferred it to another time."
Special travel packages had been put together for supporters wanting to make the trip and over a hundred ended up travelling, only to see no action.
However, the Greens arranged for the fans to spend Saturday night in a local bar on the island with all the players and coaches as some consolation for their wasted trip.
Simon Beatham, Nottingham's chief executive, told the Post: "The 35-man team of players and backroom staff had a few drinks with the fans to give them the chance to speak to all the players, which was good and everyone had a good time.
"We are desperately disappointed the pitch was not ready for the game.
"As well as needing to look after the players, what we have got to do is examine when the decision was made to protect the fans.
"The message I want to get out there is; why was the decision made at 1.30pm? There had been three days of glorious sunshine, so what has gone wrong to make that happen that the game is called off at 1.30pm?"