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Past Encounters: Bristol revel in the rain to stun Stade

In the build up to Saturday's European Challenge Cup clash with Stade Francais at Ashton Gate, Club Historian, Mark Hoskins takes a look back at one of the club's most famous victories.

Bristol 17-0 Stade Francais | November 18th, 2007 | Memorial Stadium 

There can be only one possible game to look back on as Bristol once again welcome Stade Francais in a competitive European match. Many supporters will have fond memories of a rainy afternoon at the Memorial Stadium 12 years ago when the Bristol club enjoyed one of the most prestigious victories in its proud history.

Stade Francais arrived for a Heineken Cup group match as one of the competition’s favourites and as reigning French champions, but they were soundly beaten by an inspired and committed home side.

The 2007-08 season as a whole was something of a disappointment for Bristol, particularly after the heights reached a year earlier. In 2006-07, having been written off as usual as likely Premiership strugglers, Bristol shocked the domestic rugby establishment by finishing third in the table and qualifying for the Heineken Cup for only the second time in their history. The following season was much tougher, with injuries taking their toll as the club struggled to compete at the highest level in two competitions. An eventual ninth position in the Premiership was certainly an anti-climax after the previous season, while a brave European campaign ended with three wins and three defeats. But the Stade game was special and more than compensated for some of the club’s more disappointing afternoons.

Neil Brew scores the only try of the game.

Bristol had kicked off their Heineken Cup matches the weekend before, losing at Cardiff Blues, while Stade Francais had beaten Harlequins. In the absence of injured skipper Matt Salter, the home side was led by England scrum half Shaun Perry. Amongst his teammates were two All Blacks – outside half David Hill and flanker Andrew Blowers – plus Samoan winger and perennial Bristol favourite David Lemi. Besides Perry, hooker Mark Regan and lock Roy Winters were England players, while Tongan Josh Taumalolo and Samoan Alfie To’oala were on the bench. In addition, the front row featured Jason Hobson, who was to be capped by England in New Zealand the following summer. He remains to date the most recent player to be capped by England direct from the club.

Stade Francais were awash with international talent at this time in their history. Skipper Dimitri Szarzewski had played for France, as had full back Nicolas Jeanjean, centre Brian Liebenberg, outside half David Skrela and forwards Franck Montanella, Pascal Pape and Remy Martin. Prop David Atoub, another French cap, was on the bench, and winger Julien Arias was a future international. There was a strong Italian international presence in the side, with the Bergamasco brothers, Mirco and Mauro, being joined by No.8 Sergio Parisse. Finally, prop Pedro Ledesma was a future Argentinian cap, although two notable injury absentees were Argentinian internationals Ignacio Corleto and Juan Martin Hernandez.  

Conditions were poor as the match kicked off, with rain falling and a strong wind blowing straight down the pitch. Bristol looked the better side in the early stages, with Lemi knocking on after 15 minutes when a try looked possible. Mark Regan, well supported by props Hobson and Alex Clarke, was a constant irritant to the Stade front row, while Sean Hohneck, a Maori second row from Waikato, dominated the lineouts. Hill landed two penalties as Bristol chose to play into the wind and rain the first half, and a 6-0 half time lead against the elements was a massive achievement. Meanwhile, Stade had looked out of sorts, and they lost the influential Parisse to an ankle injury midway through the half.

Skrela missed a great chance to kick-start his side when he missed a straightforward 25 metre penalty after ten minutes of the second half, and after this some superb tackling, especially from Blowers and No.8 Dan Ward-Smith, destroyed any remaining rhythm in the visitors’ play. Hill’s third penalty on the hour mark made the score 9-0, but his attempted drop goal was charged down by scrum half Jerome Fillol. Fortunately for Bristol, Fillol then knocked on, and a possible breakaway score was avoided. Then, with time running out and with Stade visibly losing heart, Bristol delivered the killer blow. Neil Brew intercepted a Liebenberg pass 40 metres from the line, and after exchanging passes with his centre partner Rob Higgitt, he slid over the line for a great opportunist try. Brew, a Maori centre from Otago, was a popular player during his time at the club, and never did he score a more important try. Hill could not convert it, but his final penalty made the game safe. Bristol had played the conditions far better than their illustrious visitors and Stade had failed to score in Heineken Cup fixture for the first time.

Remy Martin reflects on the result.

Bristol’s Head Coach Richard Hill was understandably thrilled by the result, insisting to the press that it was “probably our best result of the last five years. To beat the French champions rates as an outstanding achievement. Our front row did a superb job, and our defence didn’t allow Stade any time on the ball.”

Hill went on to admit that the team gambled in facing the wind in the first half, but he praised his players for working “exceptionally hard to make it difficult for Stade to come back.” There was some suggestion in the media that the visitors had taken Bristol too lightly, but their coach, Fabien Galthie, was gracious and complimentary in defeat. “I wasn’t surprised by Bristol,” he said to the press. “They played well in the scrum, lineouts and in defence. They played with more intensity than us, and when we tried to put some more speed in our game during the second half, Bristol still kept control.”

This was without any question the high spot of Bristol’s European adventure in 2007-08. The team went on to beat Harlequins twice, but Cardiff Blues beat them again, and the return match with Stade in Paris resulted in a gallant 19-11 defeat. However, Bristol had already achieved something special in winning the home leg.

Steve Cotton, whose gift for choosing exactly the right words to sum up a game was a welcome feature in the pages of the local press for many seasons, typically got it right on this occasion. “There are victories,” he wrote in the Evening Post, “there are victories in the Heineken Cup – and there are once-in-a-lifetime occasions like beating and shutting out the French champions in front of your own supporters.”

Bristol: Try: Brew, Pen: Hill (4)

Bristol: L Arscott, T Arscott (S Taumalolo 10), N W Brew, R J Higgitt, D Lemi, D W Hill, S A Perry (captain), A G Clarke, M P Regan, J D Hobson, R A M Winters, S D Hohneck, A F Blowers, J M El-Abd (A O To’oala Vaeluaga 59), D Ward-Smith

Stade Francais: N Jeanjean, J Arias, Mirco Bergamasco (G Messina 70), B Liebenberg, J Saubade, D Skrela, J Fillol, F Montanella (D Atoub 63), D Szarzewski (captain, M Blin 56), P Ledesma Arocena (D Weber 47), T J Du Plooy, P Pape, Mauro Bergamasco, R Martin, S M Parisse (J C Milton 24)

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

Attendance: 10,756

THIS WEEEKEND

Pat Lam's men have yet to lose in BS3 during the 2019/20 campaign and tickets are available from £20* for adult members and under-12s from £10* (*excludes booking fee).

This game is included in your 2019/20 season card package.

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