I know that I said earlier in the week that Finals were never classics, in open flowing rugby, and that spectators were intruders in sport, but this years Amlin Challenge Cup really wasn't. There were periods of pressure by Stade, but in the early exchanges, it was the Quins who got points on the board, and moved into an early lead.The game was broken up by a series of knock ons. 'This game needs a try' I thought.
I was a little stressed when I'd got to Cardiff, the weariness of the situation at work added to by my friend DT, who doesn't do make-up, wanting her nails painted, as she was hoping to see a 'ahem' guest at the weekend. So, on her way home, she went for an emergency manicure. By the vivid pink colour, it was obvious that Stade Francais were her favoured team.
At the ground, having missed tea, she was hungry, and went for a glass of wine and some canapes to match her nails. (OK I'm lying there), she went for a pie and a pint. She was disappointed only to return with a Claaark's Minced beef pie, rather than the Steak and Kidney Pie she wanted. 'What do you expect , D' I replied, 'Nick Easter would have eaten the rest before the game.' (NB Nick Easter is England's number 8 and in comparison with the athletic Jamie Heaslip, or Serge Parise on display this weekend, is slow and fat.)
The seats weren't brilliant, made worse with a boy with a horn, and two Quins rugby experts who, in a crowd that included Irishmen, and Frenchmen, shouted, in a derogatory manner, 'Come on England, let's put one over the French tonight and the Paddies tomorrow.' ( pride in your nationality, does not mean every other race, country can be insulted.)
It was made worse by their astute tactical summary, such as when Bastrenaud, 19 stone of French Centre crammed into a 5 foot 10 frame, carried the ball to the Quins defence. It took four Quins to tackle him and bring him down'. Ha, he's too slow'. Huh, too slow hey, Stade have just re-cycled the ball quickly to the wing where there was a two on one, as there weren't enough Quins players to defend, but Ugo Monye managed to stop. Brilliant, with that sort of insight, Barnes and Morris should find new jobs. We moved seats at half time, sitting in front of a Welsh couple, complaining about the 'Stereo Morons' and the horn bothering us. The wife warned us about another Quins fan who was a pain. (For the rest of the match he was so offensive, as he shouted, come on Quins, and jumped up and down when the Quins attacked. Passion is allowed, ignorance shouldn't be. There were four Irishmen, supporting the Quins, with one of them a Munster fan, who got confused by shouting throughout the game, 'Come on Munster'. The Welsh wife moaned about Quins all through the game, and was just as awful as the stereo morons behind us.
At 18-12 to Stade, and 75 minutes played, the try finally came and the game sprang to life. A clever break by Danny Care, and a difficult conversion by Nick Evans meant that the score was 19-18 with two minutes to go. A knock on from the re-start meant a last chance for Stade to attack. To me it looked like Quins got the nudge on, but the referee re-set the scrum, but as I was not in the referee's position, I might have been wrong. George Clancy, the referee, contraversial at worst, poor in his worst games) leaves me to struggle at times with his interpretations. Anyway, he re-set the scrum three times and eventually the ball came back on the Quins side, and as the clock had ticked over to 80 minutes, the Quins got the ball into touch. At this point the Quins players started celebrating, and the Stade captain Parase was apopleptic. He felt that there was a Quins infringement, and Stade should have had a penalty. The game finally got the drama it desperately needed, and it was over. he stormed off the pitch, and into the changing room. He was still annoyed and inconsolable when he returned. All I can say is that Stade had enough ball to win it in normal play, and really shouldn't need to force a penalty or allow a decision by a referee decide the result.
At full time, we met with two Cardiff fans, L and J, L had worked with DT. They took us to the exclusive bar at the top of the ground where J told us about getting lost in Castres, France. L got his Sat-Nav out to find the hotel. there was only one problem, it was tuned to have a Basil Fawlty voice, so when the direction was 'In 800 yards, turn left. It would have been half a mile, but that bastard Napoleon made us change'. Not a safe thing to be heard In France at night.
Felippe Contemponi, the Argentinian Fly Half, who had signed for Paris, walked past. I pointed him out, but before we had chance for a photo, he disappeared, very quickly when he saw us pointing at him. DT had spotted him earlier at the bar, but hadn't realised who he was. Well he did once have a full head of hair. To make up for that, Roncero, the Argentinian prop, had his picture taken with us. Unfortuately David Bailey had camera shake, so we have no proof.
At half past eleven, we were asked to leave. As we walked down the stairs, several of the Stade team met us going the other way into the after match reception.. Their after-shave smelt really nice, but they had forgotten their razors. Outside, the Stade fans waited patiently to speak to their team.
Mighty Quinn - Manfred Man, the Quins theme song, played during the after match celebrations.