Harlequins win as Stade Francais surrender on home territory

Stade Francais 10 Harlequins 15
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The Independent Online


Madame Guillotine should not be working overtime when Ewen McKenzie assembles his Stade Francais squad today, but the pain of being chopped off at the knees by Harlequins in front of a record 76,569 spectators will need more than a magic sponge and soothing words.

They have not lost their heads, McKenzie can only stick by youngsters like Mathieu Bastareaud, who was threatening to wreak havoc, and he knows they can fight another day, next Saturday to be precise.

But they have surrendered not just on home territory but in the pecking order stakes.. Stade is not just a rugby club, it is a phenomenon, a fashion statement and social occasion wrapped up in the sort of razzmatazz that only its owner, Max Guazzini could concoct.

Mediaeval jousting and Can-Can girls are the style of the Harlequin grandees. But the roar from 12,638 may be hearteningly impressive.

While Dean Richards prepares his men, unbeaten at the top of Pool 4, for a backlash return at the Stoop on Saturday, McKenzie will be calling again for a level of passion that was also lacking last time Stade moved a match to the national stadium on 25 October and lost to France's other aristocratic club, Toulouse.

After Saturday's encounter, that feisty prop forward Rodrigo Roncero, an Argentinian international and Gloucester old boy, stood with his grizzly head, sticking out of a well cut suit, sporting a sizeable and still weeping bump on the right side of his forehead. Asked if revenge was a dish best eaten cold he said that they would need cool heads but hot blood and added: "I play rugby to win. If I didn't think I could win I would go home."

Guazzini, fending off questions laced with a few digs at how he felt about such a massive high profile build-up only to fall flat on his face in the area that mattered replied that "if they can win here, we can win there." He added a warning. "But it is our last chance."

McKenzie has to rely on his younger and more inexperienced players to keep at least two French clubs in with a chance of winning a trophy that rivals even full-blooded internationals in intensity and Richards has to convince some of his younger players that they can rise to throwing themselves into the breach for a second consecutive weekend.

As Alan Lewis had twice had to call on the television official to adjudicate on possible Stade tries in the first four minutes it must have been doubly dispiriting for the home side then to see an opposition inspired by a darting and marauding England scrum half Danny Care score two first half tries. They both involved the Stade back three fumbling in defence, Djibril Camara twice being bundled out of the way to allow first Tom Williams and then Jordan Turner-Hall to touch down.

Although line-out honours were about even, the Quins pack was feeling the full force of an outfit in in charge, but never able to exert control.. Care was giving Richards a mixed afternoon as he also managed to be given a yellow card for killing a building Stade attack towards the end of the first half and then provoked Lewis to reverse a last-minute penalty decision that would have made Harlequins safe, but instead meant they had to survive one more ferocious assault.

It was also during his absence early in the second half that Stade finally broke the Quins defence for number eight Juan Leguizamon, Argentina and London Irish, rekindle Parisian hopes with a try from a flicked pass from Brian Leibenberg. Nevertheless, standing beside his captain, Will Skinner, who was still shaking from the effort and adrenalin of a defensive display that will live long in the memory, Care said it was great to pull on a Quins shirt again.

He, Nick Easter and Ugo Monye showed no signs of any hangover from three England defeats and Skinner, who said: "This was one of our best ever games" paid tribute also to the All Black stand-off Nick Evans as one of the people they look to when experienced decision-making is at a premium.

Evans also matched a curiously out of sorts Hernandez, who moved to full back, by kicking a second half penalty to push the gap to five points during the furious final phases to add to the conversion of the Williams try.



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