Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Stade Français – ASM Clermont Auvergne (03-09-2016)
What, Stade Français? Never heard of that football team! You are right, because it is not a football team but a rugby team. Yes, I went to a rugby game on my groundhop weekend for three reasons: (1) it was WC 2020 Qualifiers weekend, so there were few football games; (2) I like rugby; and (3) my brother loves rugby. And thus we drove from Sedan to Paris, where we arrived almost 45 minutes before kick-off.
Somewhat confusingly Stade Français does not (or better: no longer) play its home games in the Stade de France (outside of the city center) but in the Stade Jean-Bouin in the 16th arrondissement, pretty much in the center – they play big games in the Stade de France though. Although Stade Français was founded in 1883, it exists in its current form – as Stade Français CASG – only since its merger with Club Athlétique des Sports Généraux in 1995.
As we arrive in front of the Stade Jean-Bouin, which is directly next to the Parc des Princes (home base of Paris Saint-Germain), I am stunned by the futuristic architecture of the outside of the stadium and by the crowds in front of it. Hundreds of yellow-blue fans have made the 400 km trip north from Clermont-Ferrand – and are joined by many fellow fans who live in Paris.
Stade Français is known for its distinct merchandise, which turns out to be a mega business. There is a fan shop in a huge truck in front of the stadium, which is doing great business. We cannot resist the pink merchandise either, even though this season the jerseys are not as striking as in previous years. After we also get some kick-ass fries, from de Roy des Frites (King of Fries) stand, we enter the stadium with out pre-ordered tickets.
The inside of the Stade Jean-Bouin is simply stunning. One of the most beautiful sports stadiums I have ever visited. The basic structure dates back to 1925 and is not remarkable. However, in 2010-2013 the stadium was expanded from 12 to 20 thousand and an absolutely amazing roof was added. I could not stop admiring the stadium during the game!
The audience is remarkable affluent and white, which is particularly striking in such a diverse city as Paris. While rugby is a very popular sport in France, and the Top 14 is the best-paid league in the world (according to my brother), it is mainly popular in the southern half of the country. Paris is by far the most northern town where a Top 14 team plays – actually, two, as Racing 92 is also in the capitol.
The game starts great with a good attack by Clermont in the 2nd minute. The next minute Stade attacks and scores a try (5-0), but misses the conversion. Just three minutes later they score a second try, but after minutes of video consultation, the try is not just canceled, but Clermont gets a free kick close to the posts and kicks a field goal: 5-3. An exhilarating start!
And the pace stays really high, keeping the enthusiastic supporters of both sides on the tip of their seats. A few minutes later Stade attacks again, the guy kicks it beyond the defense and scores a try. This time they do make the (easy) conversion: 12-3. In the 19th minute both teams have scored a field goal (15-6) and six minutes later a fantastic attacks is finished by the very fast left winger: 20-3 after the conversion is yet again missed.
It looks like Stade is cruising. But Clermont makes a great break and is about to score a try when the fast left winger makes a heroic tackle just before the goal line. Unfortunately, he gets injured and has to be substituted. Even worse, Clermont scores with a “running maul” after the line-out: 20-13, as they do score the conversion.
Minutes later they seem to equalize after a fantastic attack with several breaks, but after video consultation it turns out they threw the ball forward, so it is disallowed. The next attack again seems to end in a try, but leads to a kick instead: 20-16 is also the half time score. A spectacular first half!
After suffering through the Americanized half-time program with cheerleaders and a kiss-a-cam I am relieved that the second half starts. Clermont directly pushes for a try but after two minutes settles for a kick: 20-19. You can see that the teams are getting tired. Consequently, they are more and more going for kicks over tries. In fact, Clermont kicks virtually anything that is in the Stade half, even from the center of the pitch: 20-22, their first lead.
Fortunately, they miss their next far kick, in the 56th minute, but now Stade starts to kick from the center of the pitch too: 23-22. As we have an evening game in Belgium, we leave in the 70th minute. Just as we are about to leave Clermont scores a try but misses the conversion: 23-27. In the car we hear that the game ends 30-30. What a match!
Anyone who loves rugby, or is just curious, should go and see Stade Français play in the Stade Jean-Bouin. It is a truly beautiful experience in an amazing setting. Not only is the game itself exhilarating but the atmosphere is very energetic and positive – many rugby fans even applaud the scores of their opponent! I’ll definitely come back one day.