Saints go head to head with Stade Francais this Friday (7.45pm) in one final match to decide who takes the last spot in next season’s European Champions Cup, but while the two sides have never come up against each other in competition before Friday’s clash will not mark the first time these sides have faced off at the Gardens.
Saints, in fact, played host to the Paris side in a preseason friendly back in the summer of 2002 where the two sides met as a mighty 7,000 strong crowd filled Franklin’s Gardens and the then brand new Church’s stand.
The home supporters did not have to wait long for something to cheer about with full back Nick Beal breaking away to put Saints into the lead, Paul Grayson’s conversion sending Saints’ tally to seven with as many minutes on the clock.
Things were level just a minute later though, Stade driving their captain Mathieu Blin over. But Saints were soon back on the attack and Matt Dawson set Jon Sleightholme, fresh back from injury, free down the wing for Saints’ second.
More quick ball ensued and the visitors wasted no time getting the scores back level with a Nani Corleto score.
The Stade full back nearly put his side ahead moments later with an interception and though a last ditch tackle from Beal kept things level for a time, Corleto added Stade’s third shortly after the break.
Saints’ guests continued their attack and sent their number eight Patrick Tabacco over 50 minutes in to see them 12 points clear. The home side closed the gap just after though with a debut score from Saints new-boy Oriol Ripol which was followed just three minutes later by a penalty try to the hosts.
Co-captain Budge Poutney got Saints up to halfway before Simon Hepher nearly made it over, Stade were caught offside and the referee quickly awarded Saints a penalty try. Grayson added to extras to see Saints back in the lead.
Then, replacement Ben Cohen took just ten minutes of play to get his first try of the season, getting on the end of a chip through from Ben Russell.
Saints looked like they had sealed the win but Stade’s replacement wing Brian Liebenberg was not done with the game yet and snuck over with the last play. Jerome Fillol sunk his fourth conversion of the night to see the game end at level pegging between the sides, the final score 33-33.
Saints host Stade Francais on Friday (May 26th) in the European Champions Cup play-off final for the chance to earn the last spot in the top-tier of European rugby next season. Tickets for Friday's game are now available to collect for 17/18 Season Ticket Holders as well as being available to purchase on general sale. CLICK HERE for all the information.