By Alan Dymock
DESPITE THEIR illustrious history, their garish attire and their hunkier than thou personnel, Stade Francais are undoubtedly the underdogs going into tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup final in Dublin.
The runaround at the RDS not only represents a chance to win a European trophy for the first time in the Parisien’s history, but also offers the 2007 Top 14 champions an opportunity to make it into the Heineken Cup next season.
No one has given them a chance, though, as they line up against the reigning Heineken champions Leinster at their own RDS ground on Friday evening. Although talisman Brian O’Driscoll is out for the final there is still a glittering array of attacking talents served up for the Leinster faithful.
According to Stade’s blindside flanker David Lyons, however, that may just suit the notoriously inconsistent French outfit fine as they trot out to stand in front of Ireland’s irresistible playmakers.
“It is hard to say why Stade are so inconsistent,” the 44-cap Wallaby said yesterday. “A lot of French teams are like that. We have had a really good build-up, though, and everyone has been a bit edgy. It is very hard to play here in Dublin – I know that having played Leinster so many times with the Scarlets and everyone has a TV so they can see for themselves – but we have nothing to lose.
“We have just got to throw everything at them and hopefully that team that can beat anyone on the day turns up.”
The veteran back-rower, who will be playing one-on-one against young Rhys Ruddock, seems to revel in the shadow cast over his team by the silky Dublin side. He explains that he likes the underdog tag and while the Leinster backline is one that needs to be chased he also hints that after a few years in France he can almost sense when a wobble is coming and when the team is ready to click.
If he and his colleagues are to click, it may well be because of a certain back-row battle falling in favour of Stade.
According to Lyons: “We have an opportunity if we have quality ball and our set-piece is good, while some players lead by experience and from the front. A big showdown to look forward to is Sergio Parisse versus Jamie Heaslip. That is a big one.
“For me, I am just excited by the prospect of playing quality opposition in a quality venue where pride is at stake.”
Lyons is right about one thing: tonight, as the two No 8 captains collide it will take a performance to be proud of for the underdogs to triumph. Yet how many times have we heard that before, only for the written-off visitors to pull a performance out of their shiny, pink-piped bag?
If Stade do win it will be because they mugged Leinster in their own home, with their Italian alpha male at the fore.
Leinster v Stade Francais, ko 8pm on Sky Sports 2
Leinster: R Kearney; Conway, McFadden, Madigan, Nacewa; Sexton, Boss; McGrath, Cronin, Ross, Roux, Toner, Ruddock, O’Brien, Heaslip (c)
Subs: Strauss, Healy, Hagan, Cullen, Jennings, Cooney, Goodman, D Kearney
Stade Francais: Porical; Sinzelle, Doumayrou, Williams, Bonneval; Plisson, Dupuy; De Malmanche, Sempere, Slimani, Lavalla, Mostert, Lyons, Rabadan, Parisse (c)
Subs: Bonfils, Wright, Becasseau, van Zyl, Tomiki, Nayacalevu, Arias, Warwick
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)