Stade Francais 38
CASTRES, FRANCE – Stade Francais made it two wins in a row with an exhibition of joyful, romping rugby against a criminally under-par Biarritz in the opening match of the third round of France’s Top 14 on Friday, August 30.
But, for the first half hour of TV coverage, it looked like the rather-more-than 99 pink balloons released into the airspace above the new-look Stade Jean-Bouin by half-a-dozen scantily clad and slightly chilly women shortly before kick off would be the most interesting thing to happen in the first period.
Then the game burst into life, as the host’s flanker Antoine Burban thought he had bullocked over to score in the corner – but replays showed Biarritz’s scrum-half Yann Lesgourgues had somehow got across to make a stunning try-saving tackle.
A minute later, the TMO denied Stade a second time. They rejected a near-certain three points and went for touch inside the visitors’ 22 with a penalty. A classic lineout-maul-score looked certain as they charged through a flimsy-to-the-point-of-nonexistent Biarritz defence. The on-pitch referee was about to give the try, but then decided to check. And the TMO said no.
Still the hosts piled on the pressure. It wasn’t long before flanker Pierre Radaban crossed the Biarritz line. Again, the referee went to the TMO. And this time the TMO said yes. And Julien Dupuy converted.
The second half opened almost as quietly as the first. Three minutes in, Stade’s Waisea Nayacalevu briefly excited the crowd with a break, but it came to nothing almost as quickly as it started.
Even so, it was beginning to look as if this latest new dawn for the once-mighty Parisian side might finally not be another false one, as Biarritz winger Teddy Thomas looked for all the world like he would score in the corner at the end of a flowing move, only to be bundled into touch as the hosts defended their line as if their lives depended on it.
And a yellow card for Daniel Waenga made life more difficult for the visiting sides, especially as replacement Jerome Fillol converted the penalty. Arnaud Heguy quickly joined his team-mate in the sin-bin, making life almost impossible with the side from the Basque country trying to hold their line with just 13 men for the better part of 10 minutes.
Stade made the most of the wide open spaces in their opponents’ weakened defence, with winger Julien Arias finishing off a training ground move in the corner.
Morne Steyn ran on to the pitch to great cheers to make his Stade debut on the hour. Seconds later, centre Jonathan Danty crashed over under the posts for the home side’s third try.
With 12 minutes left, and with Biarritz still players down, Nayacalevu barged his way over the line near the posts.
The game was not so much lost as buried in concrete and thrown down the deepest mine in Europe, when depleted and demoralised Biarritz had their best chance to score, but Teddy Thomas was unable to hold on to the ball with the line beckoning.
It had been evening to forget for Biarritz. The Jean-Bouin bell tolled for them before they could launch another meaningful attack, and when captain Damien Traille was penalised for holding on to the ball on the deck, that was, officially, that.