STADE FRANCAIS 36 LEICESTER 21
Manu Tuilagi scored his first try since returning from a 15-month injury absence but could not prevent Leicester from losing their 100% Champions Cup record as the Tigers went down 36-21 to Stade Francais.
Leicester had already secured top spot in Pool 4 after winning their opening five matches but were unable to make it six from six as Stade Francais claimed a bonus-point triumph in Paris which sealed the French side’s quarter-final berth as well.
England centre Tuilagi, in his third game since returning from his lengthy lay-off with a groin injury, lasted 50 minutes before being replaced as he continued his comeback and never looked out of place.
And it was the 24-year-old who opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a 35-metre dash to the posts for a try that was converted by Freddie Burns.
However, Stade Francais’ response was emphatic with the French champions running in three tries in the space of 10 minutes through Jules Plisson, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu and Rabah Slimani to establish a 19-7 lead at half-time.
The home side’s bonus point try, from their rampaging flanker Raphael Lakafia, came in the 53rd minute shortly after Leicester had lost their skipper and hooker Tom Youngs to the sin-bin for a midfield fracas with Slimani.
That try more or less ensured Stade – who had scored 26 unanswered points at that stage – would go into the quarter-final draw and meant Ulster were pushed out, resulting in no Irish province being in the last eight in the top tier of European rugby for the first time since 1998.
Leicester had no such concerns, as they were already assured of a home quarter-final before kick-off.
And the Tigers were good value for the lead given to them by Tuilagi’s score having totally dominated the opening 20 minutes.
But then the momentum shifted as Stade tightened their discipline as well as getting their off-loading game going.
Plisson, who finished the match with 16 points, got the home side on the scoreboard following good work by Jonathan Danty, and the fly-half converted his own try to make it 7-7.
Vuidarvuwalu then went over in the left corner on the overlap before prop Slimani powered over for another score soon after, Plisson adding the extras on that occasion having missed his previous conversion attempt to put Stade 12 points clear.
Plisson also converted the Lakafia score that brought up the crucial bonus point, but the Tigers then regrouped and hit back.
Dom Barrow used all of his 6ft 7in frame to touch down at full stretch for a try at the posts and there could have been another had the TMO not called up Sam Harrison’s inside pass as forward.
There was a third Leicester try from replacement hooker Harry Thacker to close the gap to eight points heading into the final four minutes, but an interception score from replacement centre Geoffrey Doumayrou gave the French side a final flourish as they progressed to the last eight as one of the best runners-up.