Poacher Pichot steals the day

Stade Français 39 - Gloucester 31
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The Independent Online

Blessed are the playmakers, for they shall inherit, if not the earth then at least parts of Europe. The problem is they are few and far between. Had they possessed a gifted footballer or two in midfield Gloucester could have won this astonishing match with something to spare.

Blessed are the playmakers, for they shall inherit, if not the earth then at least parts of Europe. The problem is they are few and far between. Had they possessed a gifted footballer or two in midfield Gloucester could have won this astonishing match with something to spare.

After squandering a number of gilt-edged chances in the first half, they got steamrollered in the second before doing what they should have done from the outset: give the ball to James Simpson-Daniel.

Both these heavyweight clubs have found the Heineken Cup to be half empty rather than full and Gloucester had an excellent opportunity here to record an invaluable victory on French soil. They were at full strength while their opponents were missing a whole host of first-team players.

Stade Français, who have only ever been beaten here once, by Munster in the 2002 quarter-finals, in the 10-year history of the competition, were there for the taking but Gloucester blew it, big time.

Everything, particularly in the first half, was in their favour. For one thing they had so much vocal support they might have been playing at Kingsholm rather than in Paris on a sunny afternoon.

The French champions looked completely out of sorts early on, when Gloucester threatened to open up their defence virtually every time they launched an attack. But they failed to drive home their advantage.

Although Gloucester established a one-point lead by the break, they collapsed in the second half, during which they conceded four tries, three of them from close range after the Stade forwards exerted the sort of muscular pressure, especially from rolling mauls, which Gloucester like to think is one of their own trademarks.

From 14-10 ahead early in the second half, the Cherry and Whites conceded 15 points in an eight-minute spell which must have seemed like a lifetime. Stade could hardly believe their luck as they smashed through the Gloucester pack, which suffered wholesale changes during the disastrous second half.

But it isn't just the Gloucester forwards who have to hold their hands up for their alarming retreat. Duncan McRae and his centres were guilty of basic errors, like woeful kicking, passing and handling and the point was rammed home in the final 10 minutes. Simpson-Daniel, finally receiving a decent service, raced through the French defence for two marvellous tries and from being 39-17 down Gloucester narrowed the gap to eight points. Had they not run out of time you would have backed them to have finished the job.

It all looked so good for Gloucester when they dominated the early line-outs and David Skrela miscued with a simple drop-goal chance. Where, the French might have wondered, was the retired Diego Dominguez when they needed him.

Marcel Garvey created the first huge hole in the Stade defence and his inside pass to McRae should have led to something better than the stand-off cutting inside and then back towards his own line in search of support.

After Skrela had dropped a goal, Henry Paul levelled with a penalty before Gloucester hit the front with a try that looked simple. Simpson-Daniel slipped a lovely pass to Olivier Azam and the hooker found James Forrester on his left. The No 8did not have to get out of third gear as he cantered 35 yards to the line.

From the resultant kick-off Garvey breached the French midfield and Simpson-Daniel left his opponents for dead. As he sprinted into the Stade 22 his inside pass was knocked on by Jon Goodridge. Had he held on Gloucester would have been 15-3 to the good.

Instead Stade responded with their party-piece, a rolling maul which ended with the scrum-half Agustin Pichot diving over. But the French had been given such an attacking position only because McRae committed a head-high tackle on Christophe Dominici.

Paul, whose goal-kicking was faultless if his general play was somewhat anonymous, kicked a penalty for an 11-10 lead at the break and they looked set to add to that when, employing an irresistible driving maul of their own, they got to within a couple of yards of the line only for Andy Gomarsall to knock on.

Nevertheless Paul added another penalty to make it 14-10, and then the wheels came off the Gloucester bandwagon. They inexplicably failed to deal with a chip ahead from Skrela and were unable to prevent Sylvain Marconnet from claiming a try from a line-out which turned, inevitably, into a maul. Skrela's conversion attempt - he is almost tortoise-like in his preparation - was charged down by Goodridge.

It went from bad to diabolical as Skrela kicked a penalty, quickly followed by a second try by Pichot, who wormed over at the posts. It had all stemmed from a dreadful pass by McRae to Paul which the centre knocked on. Sacre bleu.

There was another action replay for Marconnet, who again was driven over after Stade had kicked a penalty to touch and the fourth try earned the French a bonus point. Nor was that the end as Mirco Bergamasco shrugged off what passed as Gloucester's midfield defence to run 40 yards for his side's fifth try.

Simpson-Daniel applied the gloss finish, but it only served to remind Gloucester of what might have been.

Stade Français: C Dominici; J Arias, S Glas, Mirco Bergamasco, Mauro Bergamasco; D Skrela, A Pichot (J Fillol, 74); R Roncero (P Lemoine, 47), M Blin, S Marconnet, D Auradou (capt), M James (O Brouzet, 74), P Rabadan, S Sowerby, R Jechoux (C Moni, 66).

Gloucester: J Goodridge (N Mauger, 72); M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Gomarsall; C Bezuidenhout (T Sigley, 53), O Azam (C Fortey, 55), P Vickery (G Powell, 69), A Eustace (P Buxton, 53), A Brown, J Boer (capt), J Forrester, A Hazell (A Balding, 69).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).