It is a rivalry that embraces pretty much everything rugby has to offer - grandeur, heroism, occasional brutality, daylight robbery, the odd splodge of muscle-bound monotony - and tomorrow, in the claustrophobic surroundings of Welford Road, the two of them will go at each other once again. Leicester and Stade Français, the Tigers and the glamour-pusses. If ever a pair of clubs thrived on being manacled together in pursuit of Heineken Cup glory, the salt-of-the-earth Midlanders and the swanky Parisians fit the bill.
Stade edge the tale of the tape, having won four of their six meetings with Leicester in this tournament. They would have won a fifth back in the autumn of 1999 had not the referee, a Welshman who shall remain nameless, placed a hand over one eye and whistled the living daylights out of them. The fact that the Englishmen then prevailed in the game that really mattered - the classic 2001 final at Parc des Princes - merely reinforced the sense of injustice in France's capital.
Those body-blows hurt still, so it will be no surprise if this seventh bout of thud and blunder gets a little hot under the collar. Stade know what it is to win at Welford Road - they performed the feat as recently as two seasons ago, dumping their rivals out of the competition for good measure - but they will face a Leicester side in full warpaint. Graham Rowntree, Julian White, Louis Deacon, Martin Corry ... the hard-heads are all present and correct.
This is Leicester's moment. They lead Pool Three, this season's group of mass expiration, by the most slender of margins having registered one more attacking bonus point than their rivals. But defeat tomorrow would send them tumbling back down the mountainside, for their trip to Clermont Auvergne in the final round of matches is far more demanding than Stade's home game with an Ospreys side shorn of Gavin Henson, Ryan Jones and, more pertinently under the circumstances, any hint of a future in the tournament.
Pat Howard, the Leicester coach, has placed his faith in the team that won narrowly at London Irish in last weekend's round of Premiership matches. Only the injured Brett Deacon has given way, so the Tigers will enter the fray with Harry Ellis and Tom Varndell, try-scorers for England against Samoa in November, on the bench. Austin Healey starts at scrum-half with Geordan Murphy and Leon Lloyd on the wings.
"This is the Heineken Cup and it's a step up, but there is a chance we will go out there and score four tries," said Howard, positively aglow with Australian can-do optimism. "The time to assess your options is around the 60-minute mark, but there are many plots and sub-plots in a match like this and you can't get too far ahead of yourself. It will be a physical game, but I hope it's a pretty clean one."
Generally speaking, Stade have no need to put it about on the skulduggery front. They do not score as many tries as a side of their calibre should, but they do not throw many punches either. Their forwards are too classy - Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter de Villiers are paragons of discipline at prop, Sergio Parisse and Pierre Rabadan flankers of honest reputation - but with so much hanging on the game, the Angel Gabriel himself might be tempted to deliver the odd bunch of fives. Hang on to your hats.
Given that both Sale and Saracens are heavily favoured to win their home games tomorrow, and that Wasps will still be a long way off quarter-final qualification even if they win in Toulouse today, the pick of the other games takes place at the Arms Park this afternoon. Cardiff Blues find themselves in a similar position to Leicester, ahead of their principal French opposition by a point but nowhere near as blessed by the fixture planners in the last round, and must beat Perpignan to give themselves a realistic chance of securing the group. It is time for that bloke Lomu to fire a shot or two.
IRFU applies to rebuild Lansdowne Road
A formal application has been made for permission to redevelop Lansdowne Road, the Irish Rugby Football Union said yesterday.
Officials said in September they would seek planning permission for a 50,000-all-seater stadium by the end of 2005, with work on the €365m (£249m) project starting in 2007.
When the scheme was first announced, in January 2004, work on the Dublin ground was scheduled for completion in 2008. It is now scheduled to end by July 2009.
"The plans for the development of the proposed new Lansdowne Road stadium were lodged with Dublin City Council on Thursday," the IRFU said. It said the current stadium would be available for matches, including three Six Nations rugby games and two football friendlies, in 2006.
The new stadium, designed by HOK Sport Architecture, is a joint venture between the IRFU and the Football Association of Ireland, with the Irish government providing €191m (£130m) in funding.Reuse content