Sarramea brings Falcons to earth

Stade Français 48 - Newcastle 8
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The Independent Online

Irresistibly powerful and penetrative, Stade Français enhanced the Gallic grip on the Heineken Cup. They handed out thousands of the club's red-and-blue flags to the quite extraordinary crowd in this cacophonous concrete bowl, but the French champions were in no mood to extend Newcastle any hospitality.

Irresistibly powerful and penetrative, Stade Français enhanced the Gallic grip on the Heineken Cup. They handed out thousands of the club's red-and-blue flags to the quite extraordinary crowd in this cacophonous concrete bowl, but the French champions were in no mood to extend Newcastle any hospitality.

Olivier Sarramea scored three of Stade's seven tries from full-back, amply demonstrating his side's strength in depth in the absence of the injured internationals Chris-tophe Dominici, Juan Her- nandez and Ignacio Corleto.

It was a bittersweet return to the Parc for Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, who enjoyed great wins here in the 1991 World Cup quarter-final and the brutal Five Nations Championship match of '92. You fancied the England team of Andrew's vintage would have empathised with Stade's punishing rolling maul.

In the same way as Toulouse rudely dismissed Northampton on Friday night, Stade are able to do much more than just the pretty stuff. Their aggression in the tackle was something to behold and the gainline was a scary place to be for Newcastle. A couple of fellows who might have had the guile or muscle to find a way through or around, Jonny Wilkinson and Colin Charvis, were declared unfit to take the places among the replacements that had supposedly been left open for them by Andrew all week.

Everywhere Stade oozed menace. They had line-kicking of the highest order from Agustin Pichot, David Skréla and Sarramea. And when they needed a slice of luck, they got that too. After 18 minutes a punt to the Newcastle 22 was touched in flight, to give Stade an attacking line-out. Whatever the French is for route one was promptly deployed, with a catch in the middle by David Auradou and a fearsome drive which ended with Blin claiming his second try of the opening quarter.

Skréla converted. The fly-half had kicked his side into the lead after two minutes, when Newcastle went offside in the backs.

Matt Burke missed a chance to reply and in the 11th minute Blin went in for his first try, fed by Pichot and Brian Liebenberg after a move involving all the backs followed by a series of rucks swept Stade forward from an initial line-out 35 metres out.

Newcastle bravely attempted to mix their game up, but it was a vain hope. At a line-out close to their goal-line, they threw long to Phil Dowson and Hall Charlton box-kicked from scrum-half, only for Stade to run the ball back with interest - a break by Mauro Bergamasco paved the way for Sarramea to brush off a tackle by Mike McCarthy and score near the posts, with Skréla converting for a 22-3 lead at half-time.

Burke collected three points from close to halfway, for Stade killing possession, but though Newcastle's 3,000 followers did their black and white bit in the upper tier, they must have suspected even before kick-off that their first Heineken quarter-final would be as far as the adventure went.

Stade, in reaching the last eight for the sixth straight year, have built something extraordinary under the media mogul Max Guazzini. All they desire now is to reach a second final - they lost here to Leicester in 2001 - and, of course, to win it.

The third quarter was a distinct let-down. Newcastle's speedy outside backs could not get a look-in, and both sides shuffled their resources: the Falcons, who by losing both their props forced uncontested scrums, to re-qualify for Europe via the Premiership; Stade to receive Biarritz or Munster here in the semi-final in a fortnight.

Raphaël Poulain, the stand-in for Dominici on the left wing, dispelled the gathering torpor with a dashing try in the 64th minute. Skréla's third conversion was his last act before being substituted by Regan King, and Liebenberg added the extras when Julien Arias dived into the right hand corner for a fifth try.

There was a thumping tackle by Jamie Noon, Newcastle's captain by default, on Sarramea to cheer, and a much less legitimate one by Epi Taione, around the neck of Rémy Martin, which earned the Tongan a yellow card after 74 minutes. Just beforehand Newcastle had eked out a try at the right corner, by Burke, from a breakout led by the indefatigable Noon.

When the end came, heralded by Sarramea thundering in twice more in the last three minutes, with Liebenberg converting the first, it was oddly jolting to recall the autumn and Wilkinson's understudy, Dave Walder, kicking and cajoling Newcastle to victory in a Welsh downpour at Newport early in the pool stage. In the warm Paris springtime, Walder was a peripheral figure, and the sun shone only on Stade.

Stade Français: O Sarramea; J Arias, S Glas, B Liebenberg, R Poulain; D Skréla (R King, 67) A Pichot (J Fillol, 73); S Marconnet, M Blin (B Kayser, 51), P de Villiers (R Roncero, 39), D Auradou (capt; R Jechoux, 70), M James (O Brouzet, 53), Mauro Bergamasco (P Rabadan, 56), S Sowerby, R Martin.

Newcastle Falcons: M Burke; T May, J Noon (capt), M Mayerhofler, M Stephenson (M Tait, 60); D Walder (T Flood, 70), H Charlton (J Grindal, 64); J Isaacson (D Wilson, 31), A Long, M Ward (M Thompson, 50), G Parling (L Gross, 75), S Grimes, M McCarthy (E Taione, 55), P Dowson, C Harris.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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