Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Defeat and James Haskell row leave bitter taste for Stade Francais

The Guinness Premiership and the Magners League pause for breath as the Six Nations resumes this weekend. Not so the Top 14, where round 22 of the club championship overlaps stage four of France's grand slam, against Italy.

Stade Français are by now accustomed to doing without their internationals, or at least James Haskell, but the 29-0 defeat by Toulouse at the Stade de France will have left a bitter taste in their mouth. Presumably that was all part of the plan when Martin Johnson, the manager of England, refused to allow the back-row forward to return to Paris at the weekend.

It wouldn't be the first time rugby folk from other countries have run into the brick wall of England's mightiest:

Stade are struggling in seventh place in the Top 14, with places in the play-offs for the top six. An away game next in Brive is not exactly designed to calm the nerves, although Brive will be without a qualified Englishman of their own, Riki Flutey. It's all part of the congestion of fixtures and sub-plots at this stage of the club season.

Even Toulouse had to pay a price in their emphatic away victory in Paris, Frédéric Michalak's season coming to an abrupt halt with a knee injury. Clermont, too, suffered as they beat Perpignan, with arguably the best all-round team in Europe losing Martín Scelzo, one of their ferocious Argentinian front-row forwards, with a broken hand. The Leinster scrummagers, due to face Clermont in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in April, will not be distressed.

Were it not for the international incident, there would nevertheless be a certain serenity to the French league, if only because their relegation battle lacks the rabidity of the dogfight in England. Albi are doomed and Montauban have dropped into the second slot for the chop, thanks to their defeat at Bourgoin and fellow strugglers Bayonne beating Albi.

Bayonne's cause is helped by a healthy tally of 11 bonus points, compared with Montauban's five, and the measly two for the two teams above them, Bourgoin and Montpellier.

France V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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