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Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Rugby's Friday night project

Venue: Stade de France Date: Friday, 27 February Kick-off: 2000 GMT
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC Two and online, full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales and online, live text commentary and score updates on BBC Sport website

Stade de France

By Peter Shuttleworth

Welsh rugby players, as proved last week, do love a good night out.

But perhaps a Friday night blow-out in a run-down industrial suburb of Paris is not quite what they had in mind.

Wales' back-to-back Grand Slam chasers travel to France for the Six Nations' first Friday night project, a rugby "experiment" to test the universal appetite for Friday night Test matches.

Martyn Williams scores the second of his tries in Wales' 2005 win in Paris
The atmosphere in Paris will be electric as a night game in the Stade de France couldn't be better from a player's point of view

Wales flanker Martyn Williams

The French Rugby Federation are the catalysts behind the radical move that has triggered much opposition - even from their own coach Marc Lievremont.

But in France, whose domestic rugby schedule revolves around its Friday night showpieces, there is a huge desire and even demand for rugby at the end of a hard working week.

Yet for the patriotic travelling support from Wales, it's another awkward kick-off time at a time when traditional three o'clock kick-offs on a Saturday afternoon are becoming a rarity.

And the loyal red army could be forgiven for thinking their punishing schedule could be because of their devotion to travel anywhere, anytime, to cheer on their heroes.

Welsh fans love to 'make a day' of Six Nations occasions so for those back home, who have just a few hours' build-up for the big game after a week at work, the move has not exactly been welcomed.

But Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis said: "This is a European competition, it is not just about the home nations and in France there is a huge culture and acceptance for Friday night games.

"We must understand that the Six Nations must keep evolving and trying new things.

"The Six Nations is one of the best sporting tournaments in the world so the Friday night experiment must be evaluated afterwards to make sure we're not eroding this great tournament.

"But we must listen to and respect all of the fans."

Both Lewis and France coach Lievremont believe in that in an ideal world, all Six Nations games should be played at three o'clock on Saturday afternoon.

Warren Gatland and Ryan Jones
Coach Warren Gatland (left) prefers night games but captain Ryan Jones says it is a "nightmare" for players

Yet due to the millions of pounds broadcasters, not just the BBC, spend on television rights, the staggering of kick-offs, like in football, is inevitable so all the games can be screened live.

The French were the first to stage a Sunday Test match when they hosted the United States in Paris in 1920 so, like Wales, France are rugby revolutionaries.

"All credit to the administrators in both Welsh and French rugby," said Lewis.

"They've all been prepared to be radical if it benefits the game but big enough to say if it doesn't work, we'll change."

Wales captain Ryan Jones believes the 2100 kick-off local time (2000 GMT) makes it a "nightmare" for players to kill time before the game.

Team-mate Martyn Williams concedes it will be a "long day" but also admits: "The atmosphere in Paris will be electric as a night game in the Stade de France couldn't be better from a player's point of view."

Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, believes believes the concept is a "fantastic idea" and hopes the pilot is successful.


"While Friday night is a first for an international in this competition, the players are experienced in playing Friday night games in the Magners League.

"For a coaching perspective, I prefer night games as when preparing for three o'clock kick-offs it seems a little rushed. Evening games you can ease yourself nicely into the day and get totally prepared.

"Friday night in Paris will be fantastic and I hope it is successful. Hopefully the travelling Welsh fans will enjoy a good weekend - and knowing the Welsh, they'll come back on Monday or Tuesday!

"The players can relax during the day and build up to the big game - and the fact it's a night game will add to the atmosphere.

"It also means the guys can't go out too late after the game!"

*Coverage of France v Wales in Paris starts at 1930 GMT on BBC Two Wales and on the BBC red button service and at 2000 GMT in all other BBC regions.

see also
Henson's pub behaviour questioned
17 Feb 09 |  Wales
Wales to face France on a Friday
17 Apr 08 |  Rugby Union
France 32-21 Wales
24 Feb 07 |  Welsh
France 18-24 Wales
26 Feb 05 |  Internationals
France complete Wales whitewash
29 Mar 03 |  Internationals
Four-try Wales stun France in Paris
17 Mar 01 |  Six Nations
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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