Stade Français was founded in 1883 by a group of Parisian students, with their first meeting taking place in the esteemed Le Procope café-restaurant in the 6th arrondissement. The club were part of the first-ever French championship final in 1892, where they were beaten 4-3 by Racing. Undeterred, Stade Français went on to win eight titles between 1893 and 1908. After that initial rush of success the club went into decline for the following 80 years.
In 1992, radio mogul Max Guazzini bought in and began relaunching Stade to former glories. Bernard Laporte joined as coach in ’95, with the club in the third division. His impact was immediate, with Stade Français winning back-to-back promotions before being crowned champions of France in 1998. Laporte moved on to the national team but under John Connolly the success continued in Paris, with another league title in 2000 as well as a Heineken Cup final in 2001 (an incredible game).
Nick Mallet was next in and won championships in ’03 and ’04, with another success under Fabien Galthie in ’07. But in 2011 Stade Français came close to collapse when a major sponsor folded. Relegation to Fédérale 1 was imminent after a messy attempted bail-out deal with a Canadian company. However, Jean-Pierre Savare, chairman of technology company Oberthur, made a significant investment to save the club. His son Thomas took over as president of the club, with Guazzini moving to an honourary position.
Much to the relief of all involved, Paris will be back in their Stade Jean-Bouin home this season, with rebuilding complete. Pascal Papé calls it the “soul of the the club.” The last three seasons were spent at Stade Charléty, which failed to capture the imagination. The new stade is a 20,000 all-seater with club shop, brasserie and all the modern extras you would expect. Solar panels and a system that captures rain for watering the pitch are laudable features. Jean Bouin was an Olympian for France, killed in World War 1.
Since taking over in 2011, the Savare family have sunk €20 million of their money into Stade Français, with little return. Last season, the Parisians finished 10th despite having targeted Heineken Cup qualification. They did enjoy a run to the final of the Challenge Cup, where they were outplayed by Leinster. At this stage it’s probably a blessing in disguise that Stade aren’t in the H Cup, as their focus needs to be on the Top 14.
Last season the main problems were poor form away from home and weak defence. Over the past three years, Paris have won just six of their 42 away fixtures in the league. They will need to win more games on their travels if they want to finish in the top six. Only Agen and Mont de Marsan, both relegated, conceded more points than Stade last season. That is certainly an area that needs to be improved.
Club president Thomas Savare couldn’t have made it any clearer in Midi Olympique last month: “I want Stade Français to finish in the top six.” It is exactly what he has said since taking over in 2011, but the impression is that Stade are now in a better position to back it up. Behind the quintet of Toulon, Clermont, Toulouse, Racing and Montpellier, sixth place in the league looks up for grabs. Under new coach Gonzalo Quesada, Stade Français could finally be set for a return amongst the elite.
Quesada won 38 caps for Argentina at outhalf, scoring 486 points. His club career in France took in Narbonne, Béziers, Stade Français, Pau and Toulon. All of that was sandwiched between spells with Hindú in his hometown of Buenos Aires. After retiring in 2008, Quesada joined the French national backroom team as kicking coach. Three years later, he signed for Racing Metro as backs coach under Pierre Berbizier, before taking over as head coach last season.
Quesada had barely been in the job a day when news spread that Lorenzetti had lined up Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers as coaches for the following season. With that lack of security hanging over him, Quesada got off to a poor start. However, form changed post-Christmas when the Argentine led the club on a nine-game winning streak to make the play-offs and qualify for the H Cup. Quesada joins Stade Français with a reputation for being popular amongst his players and technically excellent.
The two big-name signings are Morne Steyn and Digby Ioane. Capped 45 times for South Africa, Steyn’s list of honours include a Tri-Nations win, three Super Rugby titles, two Currie Cups and an U21 World Cup. The 29-year-old’s reliable kicking game will be a crucial asset for Stade Français. Unfortunately for Quesada, Steyn doesn’t arrive in Paris until November, by which time Stade will have played 10 or 11 games.
Ioane at his best is one of the most explosive attacking players in the world. Stade Français have rewarded that ability by making Ioane one of the highest paid players in the world, on around €840,000 a year. The 28-year-old will come under fierce pressure to make an instant impact. Unfortunately for Stade, the Wallaby won’t be fit until December following shoulder surgery.
Richard Kingi, the versatile Wallabies-capped back, joins from the Rebels, while Ioane’s nephew Marty, also a winger, is another new face. Stade have made three impressive signings in the front-row in the shape of Davit Kubriashvili, Heinke Van der Merwe and Sakaria Taulafo. Kubriashvili had been frustrated by the lack of games at Toulon, but remains a destructive tighthead. Taulafo arrives from Wasps to add to the existing prop stock of David Attoub, Rabah Slimani and Zurhab Zhvania.
In the backs, Meyer Bosman, 28, joins from the Sharks. The outhalf has been capped three times for South Africa, and has played much of his most recent rugby in the number 12 shirt. 18-year-old Fijian back Andrea Cocagi signs for the academy from Italian side L’Aquila, where he is joined by Irishman Peter Lydon. Amongst the players who have left Stade Français this summer are Paul Warwick, Felipe Contepomi, Stan Wright and Paul Sackey.
Sergio Parisse’s reputation grows with every game. His skills and work-rate are reason alone to watch Stade Français, and he will continue to be a vital player. Captain Pascal Papé has been out injured for the last six months with a serious back injury. The French international lock is hoping to be fit for the start of the Top 14 next month. Aled de Malmanche is set to move to hooker after excelling at loosehead last season. The All Black is phenomenally strong, reputedly bench pressing 220kg.
At scrumhalf, French international Julien Dupuy is a playmaker for the Parisians. His form can be inconsistent, and the 29-year-old needs a good season if Stade are to push for the top six. Jules Plisson, 21, emerged as a real talent last season and will have a big part to play at outhalf prior to Steyn’s arrival. In the centre, Geoffrey Doumayrou’s pace is a handful for defenders, while fullback Hugo Bonneval, 22, is a promising talent.
Peter Lydon, 21, joined Stade Français’ academy last month having impressed at outhalf for Seapoint in the Ulster Bank League. The Kilkenny man featured for Leinster’s underage teams up to U20. Lydon benefited from club coach Nigel Osborne’s extensive French connections, and now has the chance to impress in Paris.
Scott Lavalla goes into his third season with the club. The American international played for Trinity while studying there, and also represented the Ulster Ravens. His athleticism is deployed from lock or the back row.
Also of interest to Irish supporters will be the progress of loosehead Heinke van der Merwe. After three seasons of excellent service to Leinster, the Springbok will look forward to the scrummaging test of the Top 14. Under ex-Pumas prop Patricio Noriega, Stade Français’ mêlée should be a strength and may well drive them up the Top 14 table.
Photos: Paul Barnard, Yohan Zerdoun, Jean-Marc CpaKmoi, Marie-Lan Nguyen.