Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stade Français and Harlequins win Amlin Challenge Cup Semi Finals

It will be a Paris vs London Final for the 2010-2011 Amlin Challenge Cup after Paris side Stade Français and London side the Harlequins were victorious in their respective Semi-Finals matches vs opponents who were expected to defeat them. The two sides made it to the Semi-Finals after winning their way through the group stages against teams who failed to qualify for the Heineken Cup. But both Munster and Clermont made it to the Quarter Finals after finishing second place in their pools of the Heineken Cup but failing to make the competitions Quarter Finals. The contribution of Argentina to global rugby was again evidente as Argenitna had players in thtree of the four Semi-Finalists while Canada and the United States were also represented with players from both North American countries involved in the matches.

The first Quarter Final was played on Friday evening at the Stade Charlety in Paris and was a game of two contrasting teams. The home side, Stade Français have been playing poor in the French Top 14 all season and sit in 10th position which means they will not make the 2011-2012 Heineken Cup unless they succeed in winning the Amlin Challenge Cup. Clermont, in contrast, have their eyes fixed on the Top 14 itself and are still in contention of defending their crown and have confirmed their place in the play-off´s. Stade Français thus fielded a strong team for the match, viewing it as a club final. Clermont, in contrast fielded a number of second-string players but their lineup was still very good. Two weeks ago the two sides had packed the Stade de France for a Top 14 fixture and Clermont were victorious in winning 20-12. The Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final however, went the way of the Parisians as Stade Français came out on top 29-25 in a highly entertaining match.

Argentina international centre, Gonzalo Tiesi started for Stade Français and put in a fine performance which included a solid tackle which drove French international centre, Aurelin Rougerie back ten metres. Pumas loosehead prop, Rodrigo Roncero also started and similarly left his mark on French test scrumhalf, Morgan Parra. Argentina born Italian international backrower and captain, Sergio Parisse was also in the Stade Français starting XV and was joined in the backrow by Los Pumas international Juan Manuel Leguizamón who came on in the 17th minute of the first half to replace Antoine Burban. Clermont also Argentine internationals with the longtime frontrow pairing of Mario Ledesma and Martín Scelzo both coming off the bench in the second half. Ledesma entered in the 56th minute and Scelzo in the 67th. Argentina born Itlalian international centre, Gonzalo Canale also entered from the bench, first as a blood substitute in the first half and then as a permanent replacement in the 60th minute. Canadian international, Jamie Cudmore started for Clermont and scored his teams third and final try but it was not enough to secure victory.

The second Semi-Final took place in western Ireland at the world famous Thomond Park as Munster hosted London based side the Harlequins. The locals were expected to continue their glory which has seen two Heineken Cup titles but the they were overpowered by the visitors who won the match 20-12 on Saturday afternoon. Munster, unlike Clermont, fielded a side that was close to its best possible lineup and will wonder what exactly they did wrong in this match. Argentina international winger, Gonzalo Camacho played the full matches for the winners and was joined in the second half by uncapped Argentina secondrower Tomás Vallejos Cinalli who came off the bench to play the final eight minutes for the Harlequins. USA born Irish international flyhalf, Ronan O´Gara started at flyhalf for Munster but could only manage a single conversion attempt in the match. It was only the second ever time that Munster have been defeated at Thomond Park in a European Cup match.

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