Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Argentina Players in France - Stade Français

The Paris based club of Stade Français is one of the most successful teams in the professional era of French rugby, having won five championshpi titles since the advent of professionalism in 1996. Its history dates back to 1883 and Stade Français participated in the first French championship final in 1892 buit it was in the 1990´s that the team became a true European giant. It had been playing in France´s lower divisions for around fifty years before French entrepreneur Max Guazzini took control of the club in 1992 and revolutionized its identity on and off the rugby field. Just five years ffter his arrival, Stade Français was back playing in France´s elite division. Guazzini´s run, however, came to an end in 2011 as following a financial crisis, Guazzini sold his majority skare of the club. The final two seasons of Guazzini´s time with Stade Français were the worst two in the history of the club as it finished well down the Top 14 ladder both seasons and lost matches that it would have won three years earlier by 30 or more points.

It is unthinkable that the club has gone from champions in 2007 to strugglers in 2011 but departing coaches appear to commonly criticize Max Guazzini for his influence on the teamas a businessman putting the interests of the team in second place behind the desire of maximizing profits. The new era may well answer the question as to whether or not Guazzini negatively impacted on the coaches and players like former coach Ewen McKenzie has argued. The club has a lot of history to live up to as it has won the French Championship more than everyother side except Toulouse. Its first title came in 1893 and its second and third came the following two years. It has also been champion in 1897, 1898, 1901, 1905, 1908, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2007. The 2007 title came with former Pumas captain, Agustín Pichot leading the team to victory to be the first ever, and only, foreigner to captain a French team to the championship. The club was also runner-up in 1896, 1899, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1927 and 2005 as well as finishing second in the 2001 and 2005 Heineken Cup´s.

Stade Français´ traditional home stadium is the Stade Jean-Bouin which with a capacity of only 12,000 has been deemed too small to meet the needs of the club. As such it has been demolished and a new venue is currently under construction and will open for use in August 2012. The venue is to be a rugby stadium and will no longer have an thletics track like the stadium used to. Until that time Stade Français is playing its home matches at the Stade Chatléty which has a capacity of 20,000 but is an athletics stadium which lacks good viewing positions for spectators. With Guazzini at the helm, Stade Français revolutionized rugby in France by relocating matches to large stadiums and the club holds the record for the largest regular season crowds following the highly successful transfer of Stade Français´ home matches since 2005 to the Stade de France. Stade Français has attracted fullhouse crowds or close to it against Top 14 opponents including Bayonne, Biarritz, Clermont, Perpignan, Toulon and Toulouse as well as a Heineken Cup match vs Harlequins in 2008. For the 2010-2011 season three Stade Français  matched have thus far been confirmed for the Stade de France with Clermont, Toulon and Toulouse all to play there.

The club has made a number of changes to its playing roster with twelve players leaving and seventeen arriving. Amonst those leaving are Argentine players Juan Manuel Leguizamón, who is to play for Lyon OU after the Rugby World Cup, and Pedro Ledesma who has decided to take the season off. Veteran loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero has been at the club since 2004 while fullback Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga and outside centre Gonzalo Tiesi will both play their second season for the club following the completion of New Zealand 2011. They are to be joined by prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro who is playing professional rugby for the first time after playing for Los Pampas XV in South Africa´s Vodacom Cup. While Los Puasm captain, Felipe Contepomi is to also join Stade Français. After playing the past two seasons for Toulon, Contepomi is to be coahced by Michael Cheika who was his coach witrh Leinster during his time playing for the Irish province.

The club is captained by an Argentine player in Sergio Parisse who was born in La Plata but plays for Italy and is the country´s captain. Roncero, Rodríguez Gurruchaga, Tiesi and Contepomi are all a part of Argentina´s Rugby World Cup team as is hooker Mario Ledesma who is retiring from rugby to take up a coaching position at Stade Français. The side also has two French players who are playing for Les Bleus at Rugby World Cup 2011 in the form of hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and secondrower Pascal Papé. Fellow secondrower Tom Palmer and Scott LaValla are both playing at the World Cup for England and the United States of America. Samoan fullback Paul Williams, like the above mentioned players, will join Stade Français after the World Cup.

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