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Stade Francais' Legacy

By Mark H
March 29 2005

In the first of our previews this week, I take a look at the history of Stade Francais, from 1883 up until the end of last season.

Rugby and Paris go back a long way - right the way back to before the first French championship final in 1892, when local rivals Stade Francais and Racing Club (who, incidentally, are at home to Limoges at 7pm on Saturday) competed for the big prize. Referee was Baron Pierre de Coubertin - yes, that one!

Racing may have won that day (4-3), but have since dropped out of Le Championnat at the end of the 1999/2000 season, after five championships in those 108 years. Stade Francais remain, however, and it is they who entertain Falcons this weekend, and not their some would say more famous neighbours.

Formed by students in a Latin Quarter café called Le Procope in 1883, they became the first French club to adopt the “British” laws, enabling them to become the first French side to play international matches against British club sides. Even the adoption of the prefix “Stade” changed the way of thinking in France, as up until then, a stadium was exactly that - the Greek style as used in the ancient Olympics. From then on, Stade became a common prefix to French clubs.

In those opening years, Stade were dominant. The Bouclier de Brennus, the shield that the French champions receive, was won five years out of six between 1893 and 1898, twice more in 1901 and 1903, and then again in 1908. Indeed, it was the ninth season (1899/1900) before Stade failed to feature in a final. They were the glory years.

And then, nothing. It was 1927 before another final was even reached (a 19-9 loss to Toulouse), but if they thought that was bad, then the wilderness was really to come. It took until 1998, after many years out of the top level of French rugby and in only their first season back at the top table, for the next final to be achieved. The 90 year wait for a Brennus ended with a 34-7 victory over Perpignan. The nightmare years were over. Since then, another three titles have gone across the city to the Stade Jean Bouin.

So where did it all go right? Well, with the ascent to the club presidency of Max Guazzini in 1993, there was a new attitude. Guazzini said on his arrival, “I want to build a club for Paris, for the people, of which it can be proud”. Stade returned to the first division a year later, and in 1995 the rugby section of the sporting club merged with the rugby section of another Paris multi-sport club - CASG - to form the club we know today, just months prior to the game going professional.

Bernard Laporte, the recently retired Begles-Bordeaux scrum-half, was appointed as coach of the new club, and in his first three seasons, won the old Group B, then Group A2, and then the Brennus, leading to a first season in the Heineken Cup.

What’s happened since then? Well…

1998/99 was the year that the English clubs boycotted Europe, and the French came to the fore, providing four quarter-finalists and three semi-finalists. Despite that, the only non-French survivors - Ulster - went on to win the cup, and disposed of Stade 33-27 in the semi-finals in front of what is still a record Ravenhill crowd of 20,000. The French title was surrendered early, courtesy of a 51-19 defeat in Toulouse, but a first ever French Cup success - 27-19 over Bourgoin - continued Laporte’s run of silverware.

1999/2000 saw Laporte gone to the national side by the end of November, taking over after France’s World Cup final defeat. His replacement, Georges Coste, got Stade into the Heineken quarter-finals, eliminating Leinster and Leicester in the pool, but the sixth seeding meant a trip to Thomond Park, and the inevitable Munster success. Coste paid for the lack of success by leaving just 6 months after getting the job, with a joint coaching team of Eric Bachoffer and Alain Elias taking over. That World Cup had led to a late start to the French season, and an even later finish. On 15th July 2000, Stade won their second title in three seasons, and tenth in all, beating Colomiers 28-23.

2000/01 was a novelty - for the first time in the professional era, Stade won nothing. A home quarter-final defeat to Biarritz cost them their French title, but Stade came closest to glory in the Heineken. Emerging as top seeds from the pool stages with 36 tries and 5 wins, a 36-19 win over Pau led to a semi-final against Munster in Lille. Chalk this one up as yet another Munster agony in Europe. Stade went through 16-15, but not before Munster had a try disallowed which TV evidence later suggested (if not proved) was good. Still, Stade were in their first European final, and over the road for them at the Parc des Princes.

Their opponents were Leicester, and in a classic final, the lead changed hands seven times, before Diego Dominguez’s boot (9 penalties and a drop goal) was eventually bettered by Leon Lloyd’s very late try and an immaculate conversion from Tim Stimpson, as the Tigers took the cup 34-30. It was to be the last game of rugby in the Parc des Princes until Saturday 2nd April 2005.

2001/02 went badly. Very badly. Stade made the last eight of le Championnat, but only managed three draws in their six matches to be eliminated there, and having qualified from their Heineken pool as second seeds, entertained Munster at Stade Jean Bouin - and blew it. The Irishmen, as is their wont, toughed it out and advanced 16-14. Not only did it mean no silverware, but Stade had also not done enough to qualify for the following season’s Heineken Cup.

2002/03 saw Nick Mallett take the reins, and inspired by Fabien Galthie, Stade returned to the pinnacle of French rugby, winning a semi-final 32-9 in Biarritz before comfortably disposing of Toulouse 32-18 in the final. The European Shield saw defeats in both legs of the quarter-final against Wasps, but at least that championship success meant a return to the Heineken Cup.

2003/04 started badly for Stade. Mallett announced early on that he would be departing at the end of the season, and on the pitch the uncertainty carried over. With the Top 16 clubs split into two pools of eight, with four to qualify from each, Stade lost their first four matches, and didn’t come off the bottom of their pool until round seven at the turn of the year. It took until week 14, the final round, for Stade to get into a qualifying spot, and only managed that because Pau lost their last game in Agen. Agen themselves were pipped only on points difference.

Proving that scraping in with a run of form can sometimes mean that you’re on a roll, Stade finished top of their elimination pool, and then beat Bourgoin 31-21in the semi-final. The ultimate defence of the title would come against a Perpignan side looking for their first title since 1955. With 79,000 (including me) in the Stade de France, the retiring half back pairing of Galthie and Dominguez put on a master class as Stade led 38-6 after an hour, before claiming a 12th title by 38-20.

The Heineken Cup went the way of so many before - qualification from the pool. This time though, it was anything but straightforward. Four rounds in, eight home wins, and with a first away win being produced by Leicester in Newport, the Tigers went into the last round favourites to get a home win over Stade and go through on a cold January Friday night. With Stade narrowly in front going into the last few minutes and Leicester pressing for the try that would mean pool glory, it needed coolness and genius. Once again, that man Dominguez was the game breaker, charging away to score a try and secure a 26-13 win. It did, however, mean another trip to Thomond Park, and a third defeat in five years, by 37 points to 32.

We’ll look at what Fabien Galthie’s side have done this season later in the week, but by now you’re aware that this club’s history is long and illustrious. Stade have only lost twice in France in the Heineken, to Leicester (on a nearly neutral ground) and Munster. 20 wins in 21 games is a pretty formidable record.  Twelve French titles, second only to Toulouse's sixteen.

That’s what we’re up against.

Do we believe?

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