Agony for Clermont as Stade Francais triumph
June 9, 2007
Stade Francais' victorious players celebrate with the "Bouclier de Brennus"
© Getty Images
Stade Francais 23 - 18 Clermont Auvergne
Boston finally won their World Series. Dundee United at last claimed the Scottish Cup. But Clermont Auvergne's torture continues.
And never in their seven previous losing French Championship finals, all under their earlier title of Montferrand, had they got as close as this. Only two minutes remained when replacement Radike Samo plunged over in the corner to complete a spectacular Stade Francais comeback that saw them triumph 23-18.
Until then it had seemed as though another Australian, Clermont outside-half Brock James, would be the hero of the night. He had landed five penalties from six attempts, including the 73rd minute effort that reclaimed the lead for Clermont, as well as controlling the game for the first 50 minutes with his booming line-kicks.
Clermont had started well in the first final without any representation from the south-western heartland since Toulon beat Racing Club in 1987. While James flunked his first kick, so too did David Skrela for Stade and it was the club from the Massif Central who established a clear ascendancy in the first-half, going in 9-0 up.
In a match distinguished more by rugged forward conflict than flowing back play, Clermont's pack had an early edge. A fine combined drive led to Stade's Pierre Rabadan giving away a penalty converred by James in the 20th minute. He extended the lead 13 minutes later. Then, just before the break, Canadian lock Jamie Cudmore snaffled a Stade line-out, Tony Marsh surged down the middle and Anthony Floch landed a 35 metre drop.
When Cudmore stole another line-out, the Clermont eight drove on and James landed the ensuing penalty two minutes after the break it looked at 12-0 as though a quest dating back 71 years to their first final was almost over. But both Cudmore and second row partner Thibault Privat were forced off in the next few minutes and momentum clearly swung to the Parisians.
Juan Martin Hernandez landed two penalties in quick succession, and while James again extended Clermont's lead, Stade continued to grow in confidence. And where Clermont had never looked like scoring a try, Stade offered a genuine threat. It took a desperate ankle tap from Gonzalo Canale to deny Christophe Dominici when the veteran wing produced a typical break, and Hernandez made no mistake with the penalty chance that ensued.
When Agustin Pichot, playing his last match for Stade, drove over after a series of surges close to the line in the 69th minute and Hernandez's conversion gave Stade the lead for the first time, it looked all over. To their credit, Clermont responded and James's penalty came four minutes later.
But there was still a sense of inevitability about Samo's score, wide on the left. And if Clermont can feel ill-used by history and on the night - to lose both locks is cruel luck - the merit of Stade's win cannot be denied. They had led the championship from start to finish and in the final scored both tries and showed the resilience needed to hit back from a 12-point deficit. And after five championships in 10 seasons, there really is no doubt which has been the dominant French club of the professional era.