Stade Français 31 Newcastle Falcons 24: Three talking points
Three talking points as the Top 14 side prevail against a spirited young Falcons side in a European Challenge Cup thriller
Young Falcons thrill in defeat
The Falcons’ great start to their Challenge Cup campaign may have been hit by defeat in Paris, but the future certainly looks bright for the Kingston Park outfit as their young team battled to the death in an eight-try thriller against the French giants. There may have been seven changes from the side that secured a bonus-point home win over the Parisians last week, but Simon Hammersley [pictured] again showcased his potential as one of the best young full-backs in England with a try and 134 metres made from some superb running through tackles. It was an all-round impressive display from the back three with wings Noah Cato and Chris Harris also taking the game to Stade. Hooker George McGuigan was another youngster to shine despite the Falcons’ scrum problems. The Ireland U20 international played the full match — a rarity in professional rugby — and was exceptional in the loose; his arrows were also solid on a night when they had no answer to Stade’s scrummaging power. Number 8 and captain Mark Wilson was another stand-out performer in attack and defence with 12 tackles and nine carries, while former Saracens flanker Andy Saull also laid down a marker with 17 tackles. The Falcons were mighty going forward, given half a chance, and they were arguably the better side on balance, prepared to go in search of a fourth try that would have secured a much valuable second bonus point. They were close; penalties and turnovers from a lack of patience at times proved costly. As much a frustration for the casual viewer supporting the underdog as much as anyone connected to the Aviva Premiership club.
Stade brute force grounds Falcons
Despite going behind to a Juan Pablo Socino try after five minutes, it took a further five minutes for Stade’s powerful forwards, led by experienced Georgian tighthead prop Davit Kubriashvili, to lay the foundations to decimate the Falcons pack. After that, there was no way back as the Falcons front row had no answer to the power that just kept coming. Such was Stade’s dominance at the set-piece, they won 10 of 14 contested scrums, losing just one on their feed. How the visitors escaped a yellow card until replacement loosehead Rob Vickers was given 10 minutes in the bin just 13 minutes from the death for scrum infringements is anyone’s guess. The outcome at every scrum was inevitable. In the loose, it was more of an even contest, but it was the set-piece that smashed through the Falcons’ defence to set up their four tries in the first half, which included a penalty try. Even a late surge 10 minutes from time to claim the win was another success for the forwards with a lineout catch and drive grounded by hooker Remi Bonfils. With the personnel available to him, there was little that Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards could have done to combat a situation made worse when tighthead Alex Rodgers was taken off with concussion, forcing the Falcons to send US Eagles loosehead Eric Fry back into action. It was definitely a tough day at the office for the forwards, but one they should be able to go back and work on. The heart was there, but there were too many power blackouts.
Weakened Parisians become sideshow
South African international Morne Steyn may have been at outside-half for the Top 14 high-flying Parisians, but their line-up was more notable for the big names sat watching in the stands at the Stade Jean-Bouin ahead of next weekend’s return to domestic action. After losing in the Champions Cup play-off with Wasps in the summer, Europe’s second tier competition remains an unwelcome distraction for many French clubs. Captain Pascal Pape and Italian number 8 Sergio Parisse were among the absent forwards, with a trio of international backs in Digby Ioane and French duo Jules Plisson and Hugo Bonneval also missing. Rugby league convert Krisnan Inu, wing Djibril Camara, and Samoan international back Paul Williams all found their way over in the first half, but it was number 8 Raphael Lakafia who was their stand-out player, making 85 metres from 17 carries, as well as weighing in with 11 tackles. If they’ve offered anything in this tournament, it is a set-scrum masterclass, at times, and some awful defending, which really isn’t anything new. Stade’s second win from their four European Challenge Cup matches and holding the Falcons to just one point has set up the potential for a round five showdown at Kingston Park between the Falcons and the Guinness PRO12’s Newport Gwent Dragons. The Dragons are expected to secure a bonus-point win over pool whipping boys Bucharest Wolves this weekend, which could determine the pool winners, despite both clubs likely to continue using the tournament as a breeding ground for fringe and youth talent. For all their European tournament history, even a pair of wins in January, which could see the French club qualify for the last eight, won’t be enough incentive to give their all, especially with Wolves at home before a visit to the salubrious Rodney Parade.