Stade Francais won their first European trophy last night as Greig Laidlaw’s return to BT Murrayfield in the Challenge Cup final ended in disappointment.
The famous French club had lost four finals, two in the Champions Cup and two in the second-tier tournament, but came good in a match played in, aptly, challenging conditions as almost 25,000 watched the first of two European finals in the Scottish capital this weekend.
Swirling rain descended as the match kicked off and it was Stade, roared on by an impressive French support, who bossed the early exchanges and looked to be taking a grip on proceedings until they gifted Gloucester the opening score in the 14th minute. The Parisians were menacing down the right when a slack pass was snaffled by left-wing Jonny May. If anyone had the pace to make the 60-metre dash to the line it was the England flier and the interception score was never in doubt, Billy Burns converting.
Burns then knocked over a penalty to open up a ten-point lead but Stade pegged three back when Scotland centre Matt Scott was penalised at a ruck and Jules Plisson banged over from 40 metres.
The momentum shift continued as Stade got themselves level thanks to a deliciously judged chip to the posts by their Wallaby scrum-half Will Genia that was palmed back by lock Paul Gabrillagues and skipper Sergio Parisse was on hand to touch down.
Plisson converted and was then taken out late by opposing scrum-half Willi Heinz, who was yellow carded as Gloucester’s woes continued.
The half ended in bad-tempered fashion as mass fisticuffs broke out on the nearside touchline but referee John Lacey kept his cards in the pocket this time.
Heinz never re-appeared from his sin-binning as Scotland captain Laidlaw made his introduction to loud cheers three minutes into the second half to replace the Kiwi as scrum-half and skipper.
Plisson had the first chance to land points after the break but dragged his penalty effort just wide as the final remained finely poised.
The ball remained greasy in the second half and continued to ping around like a bar of soap at times.
An intelligent Laidlaw box kick almost put full-back Tom Marshall in but he just failed to touch down inside the dead ball line and more sloppiness in the Gloucester midfield allowed Stade to intercept and centre Jonathan Danty hared away to score.
Plisson failed to convert and Scott’s final came to an end in the 62nd minute as he was replaced by Billy Twelvetrees before the Stade stand-off also departed five minutes later to be replaced by Morne Steyn.
The South African was called into kicking action immediately but couldn’t make a difficult penalty from wide on the right.
The killer blow came in the 71st minute as the Cherry and Whites defence parted like the Red Sea and centre Geoffrey Doumayrou danced through to score, Steyn converting.
Steyn then added a penalty to put his side beyond two converted scores. Ross Moriarty stormed under the posts for a late consolation score but the French had done enough.