Gloucester's blunders 'embarrass' Melville

Gloucester 0 - Stade Français 27
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Gloucester's European campaign ended in abysmal and humiliating failure after they were sent crashing to defeat in their final Pool Six match of the Heineken Cup by a lively Stade Français.

The French club, who lost the Argentine international full-back Juan-Martin Hernandez with a broken leg in the 75th minute, now go through as third seeds to the quarter-final stages where they will entertain Newcastle in early April.

Gloucester have to prepare for a quarter-final of their own - a tricky-looking, last-eight tie in the Powergen Cup against their West Country neighbours Bristol at Kingsholm next Saturday. The bookies are likely to make the national League One side Bristol favourites on the strength of this showing.

The Cherry and Whites had entered yesterday's game never having lost a European match at home, but the tag "Fortress Kingsholm" is just so much history now. Gloucester look as vulnerable there as they do away from home.

Admittedly the task confronting them, if they had wanted to qualify for the knock-out stages (which they did not want judging by this inept display) was next to impossible. They not only had to beat Stade, they had to score at least four tries to pick up a bonus point, ensure that the margin of victory was in excess of eight points and score two tries more than the hugely efficient French side. Improbable, maybe, but not impossible.

But as it turned out they could not even get on to the scoresheet, the first time that has happened since February 1993 when they failed to get a point against Bath in a league match.

At least they can take credit for managing to keep out Stade for the whole of the second half. The last score came in the 36th minute. Thereafter the French side found themselves some opposition, although there was never any real threat to their line, because each time Gloucester got remotely close something or other would thwart them.

There was no surprise that the match was a sell-out - the only surprise was that so many of the home supporters stayed on after half-time.

On paper it promised to be an open, expansive game. Unfortunately Gloucester's idea of open was applied more to their defence than to their attacking philosophy.

At times their actions were brainless, other times merely thoughtless. "We didn't play," a shell-shocked Nigel Melville, the Gloucester director of rugby, said. "We didn't even play the way we said we'd play. That was the worst first-half performance of my coaching career. I was embarrassed by the first half. It was unacceptable."

His coaching partner Dean Ryan, who admitted he takes every defeat personally, added: "Pissed off just about sums it up for me." The error count was unacceptably high by any standards. Three of them presented Stade with all their tries - all scored in the first half.

The Cherry and Whites could do nothing right. Passes were either horribly high, and consequently gave the French time to close down the receiver, or they there were uselessly low, the ball hitting the deck well before the target. Either way the French benefited.

It was little better if a good pass was sent out, because it was a certainty that the ball would be spilled. Poor Terry Fanolua had a nightmare in the centre. In fact, as one home fan said: "If the ball had handles on it, they wouldn't have caught it." As for the kicking that was just abysmal. The fly-half Duncan McRae could not even find touch at a penalty, hoofing the ball clear over the dead-ball line to give Stade a 22-metre drop-out instead. On another occasion the Australian's attempted clearance kick was so well telegraphed that an advancing Frenchman was able to swat it, rather than charge it down so close was he to McRae.

Not even the huge numbers of home fans - usually a brooding and intimidating presence from a visiting standpoint - could help the Cherry and Whites raise their game and sharpen their focus to what needed to be done.

As a measure of how desperate the Gloucester fans were to make themselves heard they cheered Stade's Argentinian loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero to the rafters when he was eventually replaced in the 53rd minute, for much of the rest of the match there was just an eerie, incredulous silence, by Kingsholm standards.

Stade Français: Tries Dominici, Glas, Bergamasco; Conversions Skrela 3; Penalties Skrela 2.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, J Bailey; D McRae, A Gomarsall; C Bezuidenhout (T Sigley, 59), J Parkes, P Vickery, A Eustace (P Buxton, 59), A Brown, J Boer (capt), J Forrester, A Hazell (A Balding, 45).

Stade Français: J Hernandez (O Sarramea, 75); J Arias, B Liebenberg, Mirco Bergamasco, C Dominici; D Skrela (R Poulain, 62), A Pichot (J Fillol, 69); R Roncero (S Marconnet, 53), M Blin (B Kayser, 77), P de Villiers (Roncero, 75), D Auradou (capt; M James, 56), O Brouzet, P Rabadan, S Sowerby (R Martin, 59), Mauro Bergamasco.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).