Stade Français booked their place in the Amlin Challenge Cup final after a thrilling 25-22 victory over Perpignan in the south of France.
Former Perpignan hero Jérôme Porical, kicked two huge penalties in the last six minutes of the game to edge the Parisians ahead and silence the Stade Aimé- Geral in the process. Porical kicked 20 of his side’s 25 points with the other five coming from a try by Australian legend David Lyons, in a move which Porical was heavily involved in.
Perpignan’s European record at home is formidable having lost just once in 32 encounters. Making Stade’s victory all the more impressive.
Both sides came into this fixture in fine form after superb respective wins in the quarter-finals. Perpignan overcame the might of Toulouse, playing with 14 men for most of the second half, and Stade breezed past Bath at the Rec.
However last night’s duel was a winner takes all situation for both clubs as neither side have qualified for the playoffs in the TOP14. Meaning that the only way to secure a place in next seasons Heineken Cup and to salvage their respective seasons, was to be crowned Challenge Cup champions. A competition which has often been sniffed at by French sides in the past, who consider it a lesser competition to the prestige of the Heineken Cup.
However last night’s bruising encounter was proof that both sides were up for the challenge.
An interesting sub plot to proceedings was the performance of Perpignan’s fly- half James Hook. With the British & Irish Lions squad announcement on Tuesday, Hook would have been hoping to put in a man of the match performance to try and book his place on the plane to Australia. Despite being overshadowed by Porical’s heroics, Hook did play an integral part in the match and it was a shame he had to be on the losing side.
In an enthralling first half, both sides were eager to play running rugby. Porical opened the scoring for the away side with a penalty kick after 9 minutes. However their lead wasn’t to last long as Guilhem Guirado barged over for Perpignan just two minutes later. Hook couldn’t add the conversion but made up for it shortly after with a try of his own on the quarter of the hour mark.
A stunning reverse pass by Lifeimi Mafi saw Hook dive in at the corner. Porical kept his side in touch with some fine place kicking but Perpignan led at the break, 13-9.
James Hook stretched his sides lead to 7 shortly after half time. However a searing run from man of the match Porical, a minute after the kick from Hook, cut open the Perpignan defence and an inside pass to Lyons made for a terrific try to level things up.
Porical and Hook traded more penalties, bringing the score to 19-19 with 20 minutes to go. The drama was just setting in though with pundits and fans alike looking up what would happen if the game went to extra time. Hook seemed to solve that scenario when he edged his side in front with 10 minutes to go.
However a huge kick from deep inside his own half by Porical, which had to be helped over by the upright levelled things up again.
When it looked like the game was headed for a stalemate, referee George Clancy awarded a penalty to Stade Francais with four minutes to go. Porical stepped up again and sent the ball towards the right hand upright; the ball bounced off both posts and went over.
The final whistle sounded and Stade somehow had clinched a famous win. They will play either Leinster or Biarritz in the final in Dublin on the 17th May.