A familiar cast-list, yet were enough of them reading the same script? This was, in effect, the start of the season for two old rivals, post-World Cup. And a highly controversial try awarded to Juan-Martin Hernandez, one of three predatory Pumas in the Stade backs, could not undermine the justice of the result.
In what may become a familiar tale in the Heineken Cup, it developed into a chase for a bonus point for Leicester, who were way below the form that twice made them champions. An unsuccessful chase, as it turned out.
A capacity crowd of just under 12,000 was lured by full-page newspaper advertisements billing "La Revanche''. A strong word, perhaps, though plenty of niggle among the forwards suggested something of a hangover from the Heineken Cup final between these two at the neighbouring Parc des Princes in 2001. Then, Leicester won by three tries to nil but only 34-30 in points, thanks to the superb goal-kicking of Diego Dominguez. The long-in-the- tooth fly-half, no longer an Italy international, was on top form again here, although his talent with the tee was held in reserve until the 25th minute of a floodlit first half.
Stade's 10 defeats in 11 matches before yesterday made Leicester's lowly position in the Premiership look positively jaunty. Lurking in the background, too, for the French side was also the question of how long their charismatic coach, Nick Mallett, will be around. Mallett has been strongly tipped for a second spell in charge of the Springboks following the resignation of Rudi Straeuli. It is believed a delegation from the South African RFU are in Paris this weekend.
On the field, it was all about oneupmanship in the tight. Referee Alan Lewis had a word with Julian White and Sylvain Marconnet, then another with all the front-rowers, then another chat with Pablo Lemoine. The upshot, although Leicester appeared to have an edge, was a penalty against Graham Rowntree for taking the scrum down. Stade ignored the possible three points and had several drives at the line before Benoit August was penalised for a double movement.
The French champions concentrated on using Pierre Rabadan at the tail of the line-out, and when the No 8 generated good momentum at a maul Leicester went in from the side and Dominguez made it 3-0. Another Leicester muddle, when they tackled a man early, let Dominguez double the lead from 40 metres out.
It was master and pupil at No 10, with Leicester's Ramiro Pez - who like Dominguez was born in Argentina but ended up in an Italy shirt - firing out flat passes. The most telling break, however, came from Agustin Pichot, in his first season in France after six in England. The scrum-half darted 30 metres towards the right-hand corner. What followed was scarcely credible, and certainly highlighted the absence of the video referee. Pichot put in a grubber, but Hernandez clearly knocked on as he chased the ball with Martin Corry on his shoulder. Lewis gave the try, although his momentary hesitation added to the sense of doubt.
Dominguez's conversion worsened Leicester's plight but they picked themselves up with a wonderfully penetrative piece of back play. Pez worked a scissors move with Daryl Gibson, and almost in one movement Ollie Smith crashed into the line and flipped a pass over his head for Sam Vesty to finish it off.
Two minutes into first-half injury time Dominguez struck again to make it 16-5, but he joined the ranks of mere mortals with a penalty miss three minutes into the second half. Then came a quick-fire exchange of tries to ratchet up the pulse rate. Poor John Holtby's probably went off the scale as the Leicester wing failed to ground the ball, allowing Brian Liebenberg to claim Stade's second try.
Dominguez converted but, four minutes later, was left for dead by Pez, who stepped off his right foot on a lovely 20- metre burst to the line from a Leicester ruck on the left. Pez popped over the conversion: 23-12 to Stade. Corry and Marconnet had a brief set-to on half-way. The shared Heineken experience has not done much for mutual appreciation, with Stade said to be keen to charge Leicester's players for their post-match meal until European Rugby Cup stepped in. There were also rumours of Leicester fans being charged more for tickets than the locals.
With the result, or at least the bonus point, still at issue, barging in the line-out gave Leicester a penalty and Pez obliged with three more points. Then Lewis Moody, on as a replacement, caught Dominguez late and the home fly-half added a final three points. Stade's mastery of their own line-out permitted no comeback and if anything the gap might have widened, but Ignacio Corleto was short with a drop goal and Dominguez missed a penalty at the death as the French finished the stronger.
Stade Français 26 Leicester 15
Tries: Hernandez, Liebenberg; Tries: Vesty, Pez
Cons: Dominguez 2; Con: Pez
Pens: Dominguez 4; Pen: Pez
Stade Français: I Corleto; T Lombard, J-M Hernandez, B Liebenberg, Mirco Bergamasco; D Dominguez, A Pichot; S Marconnet, B August, P Lemoine (P de Villiers, 62), D Auradou (capt), A Marchois (J-C Bado, 72), C Moni (Mauro Bergamasco, 62), P Rabadan, R Martin.
Leicester: S Vesty; N Baxter, O Smith, D Gibson, J Holtby (F Tuilagi, 72); R Pez, A Healey; G Rowntree, J Richards (D West, 52), J White, M Johnson, L Deacon, M Corry (H Tuilagi, 75), A Balding (L Moody, 52), N Back (capt).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content