Henson the exception as Welsh get French lesson
London Welsh 19 Stade FranÇais 68
Sunday 14 October 2012
In the context of a rout of these proportions, a penalty kicked from two yards within his own half shortly before half-time was an irrelevance. In the context of Gavin Henson's path to rugby redemption however, it was another step forward for the 30-year-old stand-off.
Making his second start for the Exiles, Henson again impressed, albeit in the sort of one-sided match which before the season started supporters of newly-promoted London Welsh must have feared was going to be their lot in the Premiership.
While they were tolerably competitive up front, in the first half at least, the Exiles failed utterly to cope with the speed, inventiveness and power of a Stade back division which looked capable of scoring every time they were in possession. Henson's fine kicking – he was successful with all five attempts – and a short-range try by hooker Greg Bateman provided the home team's only moments of consolation. After so many years' absence, it was an unfortunate re-introduction to European rugby for London Welsh, as well as being a reminder that in terms of depth, the Premiership itself is being left far behind by its French equivalent.
For London Welsh coach Lyn Jones it was, in his own words, an embarrassing experience. "It was a healthy rugby lesson from a very efficient side," he said. "We were all over the shop in defence and failed to offer any discipline in organisation. In England you play for the penalty and when it comes everybody rests. Not so today – when Stade had a penalty they came to life and got excited, while we switched off. It's a small example but it speaks volumes about attitude."
Henson, Jones thought, had been an honourable exception. "He was excellent, he held us together, in as much as he could. His impact here has been excellent, the way he's taken on responsibility in the dressing room and the way he stood up today – there were two world class kickers out there today."
The crowd were still adjusting their eyesight to the clash between Stade's customary shocking pink and the home team's lurid mix of purples when the visitors went ahead. Nick Runciman's attempted clearance was partly charged down, and the deflection flew straight into the hands of Stade stand-off Jules Plisson. An inside pass to Remy Bonfils allowed the hooker to stroll over unopposed.
Felipe Conteponi – the other world class kicker – converted before two Henson penalties won in quick succession by the pack kept the Exiles in touch, but the manner in which they were then twice sliced wide open shortly after losing possession was horribly ominous. Having just pushed Stade off their own scrum ball, a careless fumble gave the visitors the chance to counter-attack from within their own half with the sort of speed, skill, and yes, bravery which is rarely seen in the Premiership. The ball passed through seven pairs of hands before full-back Hugo Bonneval finished in the corner.
If some of the Welsh tackling was unimpressive, it was shamefully poor soon afterwards, when Fijian Waisea Nayacalevu was allowed to break three attempted tackles to score. The former Melbourne player crossed again a few minutes later when London Welsh dozily turned their collective back after conceding a penalty just outside their own 22: quickly taken, Nayacalevu must have found it hard to believe his good fortune at finding the line opening up before him.
At 6-29 after half an hour, Henson's kicking was the only thing giving the home team supporters anything to cheer, but the fact Welsh were more than competitive up front was emphasised when a period of pressure on the Stade line resulted in Bateman plunging over from close range. Henson again converted, and followed with the mighty thump from inside his own half to give his side a glimmer of hope at the break.
That was quickly extinguished when Stade wing Francis Fainifo collected his own long kick ahead to score after eight minutes of the second half. Bonfils trundled over to take the score past the half century, and after Juan Cruz Guillemain was pushed over, Contepomi crowned a fine performance by running the visitors' ninth try in from distance.
London Welsh Davies; Smith, Lewis, Davis, Scott; Henson, Runciman (Keats 69); Montanella (Bristow 64), George (Bateman 64), Joly, Kulemin (Purdy 72), Corker; Mills (capt) (Williamson 67), Denbee, Jackson.
Stade Français Bonneval; Sinzelle (Gomez Lopez 5), Nayacalevu (Danty 56), Contepomi, Fainifo, Plisson (Rubio 67); Bezy, Zhvania (Becasseau 64), Bonfils (Van Vuuren (65); Slimani, Guillemain, Van Zyl (Garrault 57), Burban, Tomiki (Chollon 62), Rabadan.
Referee Marius Mitrea.
Pens: Henson 4
Tries: Bonfis 2, Bonneval 2, Nayacalevu 2, Fainifo, Guillemain, Contepomi 2
Cons: Contepomi 7
Pens: Contepomi 2
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