Stade rally late to seal French title glory

LATE tries from veteran Argentinian scrum-half Augustin Pichot and Fijian substitute Radike Samo inspired Stade Francais to a 23-18 victory over Clermont in the French Top 14 championship final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Clermont had led almost from start to finish but a late rally from the Parisians in the final 11 minutes proved enough to secure a fifth title in 10 years and condemn Clermont to an eighth defeat in eight finals.

Stade coach Fabien Galthie paid tribute to his side’s never-say-die attitude.

“We fought all the way. It wasn’t easy but we fought, we never gave up. We showed heart, worked hard and got there in the end.”

Clermont’s Kiwi coach Vern Cotter was distraught. “There’s nothing to say, we’re all feeling the same thing,” he said. “We’ve had a great year and I’m proud of my players. They got here. Next year we’ll be stronger for this.”

Nerves seemed to get the better of both team’s kickers in the opening exchanges with Australian Brock James missing a penalty from the touchline in the sixth minute.

France centre David Skrela had a much easier chance seven minutes later from about 30 yards but he sliced his effort wide. Chances were at a premium and some poor handling cost both sides scoring opportunities.

Clermont did get on the scoresheet after 19 minutes, though, after a strong midfield break from Elvis Vermeulen and Alexandre Audebert set up a chance for James to land the first three points of the evening from a penalty.

Stade were having no luck, though, and their Argentine fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez missed a drop goal attempt from in front of the posts.

The Parisians were made to pay for that twice more before the end of the half as James landed a penalty on 33 minutes after a handling error from Nicolas Jeanjean and then full-back Anthony Floch capitalised on a fumbled line-out from Stade to score a drop goal with three minutes of the half remaining for a 9-0 lead.

Things got no better for Stade at the start of the second period as James landed a huge 49-metre penalty to stretch the lead again.

Stade finally got on the scoresheet 10 minutes into the second half as Hernandez landed a penalty from even further out, 53 metres, after Clermont had collapsed a scrum.

That proved to be a turning point.

By now Stade coach Fabien Galthie had played all his cards, making a string of changes including hauling off Skrela in favour of South African Brian Liebenberg.

Stade still had troubles with their line-out and Benjamin Kayser’s throwing in particular, but the rest of their game was starting to fall into place, particularly among the forwards.

Two more penalties from Hernandez and one from James brought the score to 15-9 but the tide had turned and it was Stade pushing forward.

Stade were now heaping on the pressure and a powerful, rolling drive 11 minutes from time by the forwards set up captain Pichot to sneak over the tryline. Hernandez converted and Stade had the lead for the first time.

James landed a penalty from wide on the touchline with six minutes left but another brilliant midfield break, this time from winger Julien Arias, led to Samo eventually touching down in the corner. Hernandez converted and there was no way back for Clermont.

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