Stade stage 'incredible' comeback

Stade Francais 20 - Biarritz 17
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The Independent Online

As an exercise in destruction on a grand scale, Biarritz's collapse at the Parc des Princes was in the class of a detonated high-rise tower block. Teams leading 17-6 with seven minutes of normal time remaining, should not lose any game, never mind a Heineken Cup semi-final.

As an exercise in destruction on a grand scale, Biarritz's collapse at the Parc des Princes was in the class of a detonated high-rise tower block. Teams leading 17-6 with seven minutes of normal time remaining, should not lose any game, never mind a Heineken Cup semi-final.

But those seven minutes, plus the extraordinary additional 11 minutes awarded by the referee, Tony Spreadbury, revealed much about the Basques. In no particular order, a mental fragility, fear of failure, lack of sufficient leaders, and serious absence of assertiveness and self-belief, besides a fearful muddle over tactical substitutions, combined to wreck Biarritz's hopes for the second year running at this stage.

Even the Biarritz coach, Patrice Lagisquet, normally the most mild-mannered of men, was all but apoplectic at his men's demise.

"It is impossible to lose a game like today. It's incredible," he said. "We are not consistent enough: we lost this game more than Stade Français won it."

It took a try from the veteran wing Christophe Dominici nine and a half minutes into injury time to complete Stade's unlikely revival. By then, Biarritz had only three of their original forwards on the field and they packed a hooker at No 8 for the final, crucial scrum. Stade wheeled it, won the feed for another scrum and finally scored. By this time, Biarritz nerves were shredded.

Even the Stade coach, Fabien Galthié, conceded in bewilderment. "This was incredible. I could not believe the comeback. Sometimes there are victories you cannot explain."

What was apparent was Stade's superiority when it came to confronting their demons. The spark lit by Guillaume Bousses' 69th-minute yellow card which left Biarritz vulnerable, even though Damien Traille had just put them 17-6 ahead, proved crucial. But Stade seized the moment and a place in the final, though they will go to Edinburgh next month as underdogs.

Stade Français: Tries Fillol, Dominici; Conversions Fillol 2; Penalties Fillol 2. Biarritz: Try Traille; Penalties Yachvili 4.

Stade Français: O Sarramea; J Arias, S Glas, B Liebenberg, C Dominici; J Fillol, A Pichot; S Marconnet, M Blin, R Roncero (P Lemoine, 61), D Aradou (capt), O Brouzet (M James, 57), P Rabadan (M Bergamasco, 61), R Martin, S Sowerby.

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe (F Martin Arramburu, 60), G Bousses, D Traille, J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (K Lealamanua, 40), B August, D Avril (B Lecouls, 68), J Thion, O Olibeau (D Couzinet, 75), S Betsen, I Harinordoquy (T Dusautoir, 50-58; J M Gonzalez, 80), T Lièvremont (capt; Dusautoir, 68).

Referee: T Spreadbury (England).

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