Stade Francais break Euro duck
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP FINAL REPORT: Stade Francais won silverware outside their country at last, when they edged Gloucester 25-17 in Edinburgh on Friday.
Despite having won numerous French Top 14 titles, the French side had finally won a continental showpiece match - after previously losing two European Cup finals and two in the second-tier Challenge, with Geoffrey Doumayrou's try nine minutes from time the decisive score.
Gloucester raced into a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but the French outfit slowly worked their way back into the game and by the half-time break had levelled it up at 10-all.
In the second half their powerful scrum and superior kicking game started to take its toll and Gloucester and helped Stade Francais to end a long wait for European silverware.
Victory was all the sweeter for a Stade side whose very existence was under threat this season until a proposed merger with Paris rivals Racing 92 fell through.
They subsequently failed to qualify for the Top 14 play-offs, having been crowned champions of France just two seasons ago.
The first half ended all square at 10-10 after Jonny May's converted try and Billy Burns's penalty for Gloucester were cancelled out by a Jules Plisson penalty and Sergio Parisse's converted try for Stade.
But Stade pulled away after the break.
Defeat meant Gloucester failed to qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs, with Stade already having booked their place in the knockout matches that will decide the last entrant into next season's tournament.
For Gloucester, two-time Challenge Cup winners, it meant there was no flourish to a season that saw them finish a lowly ninth in the 12-team Premiership
Stade, with Australia scrumhalf Will Genia pulling the strings, enjoyed the better initial field position.
But it was Gloucester who opened the scoring against the run of play in the 14th minute.
After some sublime handling skill from Stade skipper Parisse, England wing May intercepted a pass from centre Jonathan Danty just outside his 22 and ran in unopposed from some 75 metres for a try under the posts.
Burns converted and minutes later extended the Cherry and Whites' lead to 10-0 with a long-range penalty.
The pressure being exerted by Stade's scrum was evident when Gloucester prop John Afoa went off in the 22nd minute before France flyhalf Plisson got Stade on the scoreboard with a superbly struck penalty from near halfway.
Stade's fightback continued when, after good work by their forwards, Genia's clever up and under was knocked back by lock Hugh Pyle near the Gloucester line and Italy No.8 star Parisse, Stade's skipper, pounced on the loose ball for a 32nd-minute try.
Plisson converted and the match was all square.
From the kick-off, Gloucester were a man down when captain and scrumhalf Willi Heinz received a yellow card from Irish referee John Lacey for a head-high challenge on fullback Hugo Bonneval.
Heinz did not return in the second half after his sin-binning, with Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw taking his place to huge cheers from his 'home crowd'.
Plisson missed a chance to put Stade ahead when he pushed a 40-metre penalty wide of the posts while Stade's back three were struggling under the high ball.
Scrumhalf Laidlaw, recently called into the British and Irish Lions' squad for their tour of New Zealand, produced a well-judged kick that caused chaos in the Stade defence but Gloucester fullback Tom Marshall just failed to get the touch down before the ball went dead.
Stade, just as Gloucester had done, then struck with an intercept try.
Djibril Camara grabbed Marshall's pass and then found Danty, who went in at the left corner.
Plisson missed the conversion but Stade were 15-10 up.
Doumayrou then gave Stade breathing space when, after he was missed by opposing centre Mark Atkinson, he scythed his way through Gloucester's defence.
Replacement Morné Steyn converted and the South African added a penalty to put Stade 25-10 up with just five minutes left.
Ross Moriarty crossed in the 79th minute but the Wales flank's try was too little, too late for Gloucester.
Man of the match: Charlie Sharples and Jonny May had their moments, while Ben Morgan showed oodles of energy. Geoffrey Doumayrou produced the crucial try, with some sublime stepping, while the front row of Rabah Slimani, Remi Bonfils and Heinke van der Merwe caused immense damage in the set pieces. However, our award goes to Stade Francais captain Sergio Parisse for his composed and influential performance.
Tries: May, Moriarty
Cons: Burns 2
For Stade Francais:
Tries: Parisse, Danty, Doumayrou
Cons: Plisson, Steyn
Pens: Plisson, Steyn
Yellow card: Willi Heinz (Gloucester, 33 - foul play, high charge)
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paddy McAllister, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Henry Trinder.
Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Jonathan Ross, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Remi Bonfils, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Laurent Panis, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Paul Alo Emile, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Raphael Lakafia, 21 Julien Dupuy, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jérémy Sinzelle.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)