Stade Francais go from brink of extinction to European distinction

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

MURRAYFIELD, Edinburgh -- At one stage it did not look like Stade Francais were going to exist next season. How wrong those powers-that-be were to ever consider disbanding this club.

This Challenge Cup win over Gloucester was a justification of their very survival, a screaming proclamation of Parisian pride and a reaffirmation of their existence.

Under the lights at a drizzly, cold Murrayfield, corners of the stadium were painted pink. It was a far cry from Paris in the springtime, but they enjoyed their moment as Stade flourished in Edinburgh to claim their piece of silverware.

Their front-row was immense -- scrum on scrum they splintered Gloucester's resolve -- and they enjoyed far more possession in the 'red zone'. Gloucester, to their eternal credit, battled resiliently and showed admirable courage, but once Stade Francais started running with direct purpose, the Cherry and Whites lost the gainline battle and their foothold in the match.

It wasn't a vintage performance from the Top 14 side. Sloppiness summed up a first half where they had the lion's share of possession and territory, and an opportunistic piece of brilliance from Jonny May allowed Gloucester to score. Stade would have been left wondering how they went into the break all square, but in the second half they kept their foot on Gloucester's throat and never allowed the Aviva Premiership side to build any phase play.

Neither Stade Francais nor Gloucester have had straight-forward years. Both have had rumoured takeovers circling above their head but neither Mohad Altrad's takeover bid of Gloucester, nor Racing 92's merger with Stade came to fruition. Both became unwanted distractions.

Stade were not favourites to make this final -- they have had a wretched year in the Top 14 -- but showed some semblance of the side that won the Top 14 title just two short seasons ago.

Of course it was Sergio Parisse who scored their opening try and took the Man of the Match award -- who else but the ageless, nation-defining Italian No.8 -- but this triumph was not purely down to the individual.

His try came from a neat piece of thinking from Will Genia to put in a cheeky kick over the top with penalty advantage behind them, for Hugh Pyle to knock down for Parisse to score. Then came their second where the ever-troublesome Djibril Camara snaffled a loose pass and Jonathan Danty had the space to sprint away. Stade's third was a simple step past Mark Atkinson for Geoffrey Doumayrou who then danced over Gloucester's line.

Parisse was superb, but so was Pyle. He was the thorn in Bath's side in Stade's semifinal win, and again here he showed neat touches for a sizeable lock but then married it with set-piece security.

Stade should have perhaps grabbed a couple more. They made a number of clean breaks but players looked left instead of right -- and vice-versa -- and chances were squandered.

This in turn gave Gloucester hope, and with it half-chances. May took his, but Tom Marshall was a fingernail away from doing likewise in the second half when he chased a loose ball in Stade's dead-ball area.

Gloucester battled hard. Their back-row were heroic. When their scrum-half Willi Heinz was dispatched to the sin-bin for his late hit on Jules Plisson -- other referees might have shown red instead of yellow -- it was Ben Morgan who controlled the ball at the back of the scrum and ensured they navigated that spell without conceding a try.

Eitherside of Morgan were his brilliant lieutenants Ross Moriarty and Lewis Ludlow who got through an almighty amount of work as did the outstanding Jeremy Thrush. Billy Burns also deserves credit for stepping into Heinz's shoes for 10 minutes to fill the scrum-half berth. And they also deserve acclaim for battling until the end.

But tonight Murrayfield will be painted pink. This will mean more than mere silverware for Stade Francais. It was a verification of them still being a justifiable European power when it looked for a while like they were to become a side-note in the mooted Parisian super club.

It was player power that helped prevent that from occurring, and their passion was plain to see under the gloomy, swirling Scottish sky as they stood alongside one another, resolute and as Challenge Cup holders.