Harlequins became the first side to win the European Challenge Cup (the Amlin Cup) three times with a dramatic last gasp win here at the Cardiff City Stadium before a disappointing crowd of 12,235 , thanks to a 77th minute try from Gonzalo Camacho and a fine conversion from ice cool New Zealander, Nick Evans. Many of the thousands of Quins fans could not bear to watch as Evans slotted over his kick.
The Quins, who also won in 2001 and again in 2004 seemed ‘no hopers’ when they trailed 18 – 12 to Stade Francais,( coached by former Leinster coach, Michael Cheika ) with only seven minutes on the clock and Stade seemingly well in control. But back they came as Joe Marler and Danny Care gained valuable yards which allowed wing Camacho to go over in the corner. Nick Evans composed himself to land the conversion from the right touchline.
For the Quins – and their long suffering fans – now they can plan for next season and the Heineken Cup. Stade must rely on the Northampton Saints defeating Leinster in the Heineken final and if that does not happen then the French side will be faced with concentrating on domestic honours next season whilst Connacht will benefit from a Leinster win and take their place in the Heineken alongside Leinster and Munster. The West awaits!
It was very noticeable here at the Cardiff City Stadium that there were ‘hundreds’ of Munster and Leinster shirts to be seen.No doubt the Munster fans had bought tickets before the Quins had scored that stunning win at Thomond Park.
In a game of many twists and turns. Evans had scored 3 penalties to Stade’s one from Lionel Beauxis before Stade transformed a 9-3 deficit after 27 minutes with 12 unanswered points – three more penalties from fly-half Beauxis and a rare but well executed 22 metres drop-goal from centre Mathieu Bastareaud – to lead 15-9 just before the hour was up.
Evans’ next penalty ,after further indiscipline from the French side was punished by Irish referee George Clancy,with 13 minutes left gave hope to the Londoners but after a 44 metres drop-goal from Stade full-back Martin Rodriguez, the game seemed over for the Quins.
Then Marler and Care struck and the latter sent a delicate left-footed chip towards Camacho, who avoided the remaining Stade cover to score that all important try.That brought Quins to within a point, and All Black Evans, held his nerve for the vital winning conversion.
Quins Director of Rugby, Conor O’Shea admitted later : “We didn’t play well. We’ve lost some pretty heartbreaking games this season, but my wife always said to me we would get some luck at the end of the year, and we did. We hung on in there and never gave up.
“Across the pitch, we didn’t have the greatest of games, but we kept on playing and trying – that’s the motto of the team.
“It might be Gonzalo’s last game for the club, but if it is, what an incredible to way sign off. I thought he was magnificent throughout the game.”
Defeated French coach Michael Cheika and Captain Sergio Parisse were less than happy with the performance of Irish referee George Clancy with an emotional Parisse struggling to find the right words and left it to Head Coach Cheika :
“We are pretty devastated,” he said. “We deserved a lot better, I think. We are very disappointed. We made some small mistakes which Harlequins were very good at taking advantage of, some snippets of the game when they got through us.
“We deserved to win, and I hope it is not perceived as just sour grapes. I am trying to be as measured as I can – I thought we played very well.”
Harlequins: Brown; Camacho, Lowe, Turner-Hall, Monye; Evans, Care; Marler, Gray, Johnston, Kohn, Robson, Fa’asavalu, Robshaw (capt), Easter.
Substitutes : Skinner (for Fa’asavalu, 60), Chisholm for Lowe (75)
Stade Francais: Rodriguez, Arias, Bastareaud, Bousses, Camara, Beauxis, Dupuy, Roncero, Bonfils, Attoub, Palmer, Pape, Haskell, Burban, Parisse.
Substitutes : Leguizamon for Burban (37).
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Spectators : 12,235