Postponement As Bizarre As I Can Remember

George Chuter in action for Leicester Tigers in 2013/14

The circumstances surrounding the abandonment of our LV= Cup game against Harlequins last week were as bizarre as I can remember experiencing in my career.

As I trotted/glided onto the field for the final 10 minutes, the weather had already taken a turn for the worse.

An already windy and chilly night had, around the hour mark, become wet as well, as a heavy rain had started to fall.

My first involvement in the game was to pack down for a scrum on our own ball. It was completed (yes, you heard me, a completed scrum and somewhere, Brian Moore was using very long and complicated words in a fit of euphoria... probably). Anyway, as we broke up to head to the breakdown, hail began to, er, hail down upon us.

The next 30-40 seconds were spent between a couple of pick-and-drives, and shielding our eyes from the hailstones being whipped around by the rising wind.

Eventually, the ball found its way out to the backs and was chipped ahead. Being 37 years old, I find running hard enough. But running face-first in to a hailstorm only served to make it even harder.

The ball squirted along the wet turf and the Quins full-back made a meal of diving on it. It slipped away from him and players from both teams were converging on the loose pill.

Suddenly, the referee blew his whistle. Being paranoid and playing for Leicester, I immediately spun around to ask him what I had done and deny it.

I saw that he was listening to his earpiece and was pointing to the corner of the ground, and I also became aware of a disturbance in the crowd that was rising above the noise of the wind.

Looking to the corner that the referee was motioning to, I could see what can only be described as a mini-tornado of rain and hail swirling around a scaffolding standing in between the two stands.

The crowds were all moving away from the corner, and it was only later that I learned that some wooden planks forming a platform on the scaffolding tower had been blown off and landed near a group of spectators.

In addition, a portion of the grandstand roof at that corner had also blown loose and had fallen to the side of the pitch.

The referee gathered all the players in the middle of the field to avoid any debris. As we stood there, huddled around the fat props for warmth, we saw three advertising hoardings ripped from the fence surrounding the field and blown onto the pitch by the wind.

One of them flew through the area that would have been occupied by the two packs at a 5 metre line-out.

There was a genuine risk to the safety of players and spectators, and the referee decided to abandon the match.

Of course, this being England, the weather changed 48 seconds after the decision was reached, and a cold but still evening followed the storm.

Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision could have been delayed a little. However, I feel the right call was made as there was no way of knowing whether the storm had totally passed and there was a genuine danger. Also, the clear-up mission was still ongoing.

The only weather I have played in that can rival the events of last week occurred in 1998.

I was at Saracens, and we traveled up to Kingston Park to play Newcastle Falcons. It was November-December time and a Saturday afternoon.

The temperature was about two degrees Celcius, but a bitter gale was blowing from left to right as we walked out of the tunnel before the game, with the wind-chill factor taking the temperature down to several degrees below zero.

We won the toss and decided to play into the wind. Good call! Our opening kick-off blew back from beyond the opposing 10-metre line to land behind our chasing forwards, Johnny Wilkinson pegged us back deep in our own territory and none of our clearance kicks made it outside the 22.

An example of the strength of the wind came from Gary Armstrong, the former Scotland scrum-half. We made a rare foray into Newcastle territory and the ball was poked through behind the defence.

Armstrong scampered back and scooped the ball up five metres from touch and about five metres inside his own 22.

He swivelled and executed an over-the-shoulder bicycle kick. The wind caught the ball and it flew across the field and rolled into touch less than 10 metres from our try-line on the opposite side of the field.

Accounting for the angle, I would estimate at least an 80-metre kick.

Johnny, not unusually,  slotted his goals and we ended going in at half time facing a 12-0 deficit.

We felt we had played well given the conditions, and were happy as we felt the wind was worth significantly more than 12 points. We were confident of going out, using the wind and coming away with the win.

Our confidence evaporated as soon as we emerged from the tunnel for the second half. The temperature had dropped, sleet was now pouring down, and the still-galeforce wind had changed direction and was now blowing across the pitch. In fact, if anything, it was slightly in our faces again.

Both sides struggled to get anything going and Newcastle scored the only 3 points of the second half to come away 15-0 winners.

In the changing rooms afterwards, there genuine cases of mild hypothermia and frostbite amongst the back three players, such was the severity of the cold wind.

Strangely enough, however, the tight five appeared untroubled by the cold. The moral of the story should probably be: sometimes, it pays to be 'big-boned'.

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