Leinster destroyed by Parisian power


Bernard Laporte, the temperamental coach of the Parisian club Stade Francais has the reputation of a hard task master. His half-time pep-talks are usually like something out of Full Metal Jacket as he screams, lambasts, and puts the verbal boot into his troops. But on Saturday, after an extraordinary first half from the local side at the Jean-Bouin stadium in Paris, the balding former scrum-half was a different person. Instead of the usual tirade, the players found him full of smiles and unusually relaxed. "I would have willingly paid to see you play like that," he told them.

This was no false flattery as, with a combination of speed, power and formidable team-work Stade Francais had literally blown Leinster apart in the opening stages of the game. Showing why they are the current French champions, and yet to lose a match this season, the Parisians produced forty minutes of spectacular highly skilled rugby, running in six superb first-half tries and leaving the Leinster team wondering if they are even in the same league.

Herve Chaffardon scored the first try, from a movement sparked by the impressive number eight Christophe Juillet from the game's first scrum, with less than two minutes on the clock. Leinster responded with a try in the seventh minute from John McWeeney, showing however briefly that the visitors were also able to create space for their attackers by keeping the ball in hand. But from then on, it was all one-way traffic as Stade Francais thrilled the 6,000 spectators with their delightful brand of rugby.

"The game was all over in 10 minutes," admitted the Leinster coach Mike Ruddock. "Stade Francais were quite exceptional in the first half. They played with pace and precision and that is what it is all about. We made mistakes, we turned the ball over and we were unable to dominate the scrum to launch our attacks." Ruddock admits that he feared the worst at half-time, with the score already at 42-8. "The way the French were playing, they looked like they were going to run in 80 or 100 points," he said. "We know that our only hope was to claw back in the second half. And that's what we did."

Perhaps unsettled by the uncharacteristic praise from their coach, the Parisians clearly went off the boil in the second half. The inevitable happened, with Leinster chipping away at the mountainous lead and gradually clambering back to some semblance of respectability and effectively "winning" the second half by 23-14. "We were more composed in the second half, and the French clearly started to get frustrated with themselves," added Ruddock. "We are disappointed at losing so heavily, but at the same time pleased we were able to show such character in the second half."

STADE FRANCIAS: A Gomes; T Lombard, F Comba, R Dourthe, C Dominici; D Dominguez, C Laussucq (S Viars 75 mins), S Simon, V Moscato (capt), S Marconnet (P De Villiers 61 min); D Auradou (D George, 61 min), H Chaffardon; M Lievremont (R Pool-Jones 61 mins), C Moni, C Juillet.

LEINSTER: C Clare; G Dempsey, S Horgan, B Carey, J McWeeney; R Murphy (A McGowan 34 mins), D Hegarty (C Scally 75 min), R Corrigan, S Byrne, A McKeen (E Byrne 67 min); P Holden, G Fulcher (capt) (L Cullen 73 min); T Brennan, P Ward, V Costello (C Brownlie 10 min).

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).