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Top 14 club-by-club 2020/21 season preview: Stade Francais

Up to a dozen players at Stade Francais have tested positive for coronavirus. (Getty)

It seems Stade Francais are always rebuilding these days. But there’s something in the air at Stade Jean Bouin that suggests, this time, things could be a little different…

Key signing

Telusa Veainu. Stade poker-faced their market interest until very late – then made some smart, targeted signings. They grabbed Veainu on a three-season deal from Leicester at the second attempt. With Grobler and Kremer, too, Stade have brought in some serious added talent … but here’s another Top 14 side heading rapidly to Made in France status.

Key departure

Jules Plisson. Another big clearout year at Stade, but it’s hard to look past the fly-half, who left his childhood club back in November – and then wasted little time showing the Parisians what they could have – still – had. In what turned out to be left of the shortened season, he picked up two Top 14 player of the month titles.

They say

“The coming season is going to look like a World Cup season, with a lot of [domestic and international matches on the same weekends]. This was our weakness last year, as our results were often based on individual performances. All our work is to make the team grow and that we only speak of the collective and not of internationals or individuals.” (Assistant coach Laurent Sempere, actu.fr)

We say

A coronavirus outbreak at Stade Jean Bouin came at the wrong time for Stade Francais. Two weeks before the Paris side were due to kick off the Top 14 season against Bordeaux, the club confirmed ‘a number’ of players had tested positive following a training camp in Nice.

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Details in the club statement were vague – but L’Equipe had earlier reported ‘more than a dozen’ players were under quarantine. Within hours, unsurprisingly, a planned friendly against Brive less than a week later was called off.

Training halted

Things got worse and Stade were forced to halt all collective training pending the results of further tests. The club denied reports in the French press that 25 people were affected.

A second round of tests found the outbreak had been contained. Pending the results of further tests, some players may be able to return to training in the week beginning August 17.

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That’s the state of play of the acute health problem at Stade. Let’s now take a wider look at the club ahead of the new season.

While it’s true to say the club’s more careful recruitment shows more coherence than in recent seasons, coronavirus looks like it could have a crucial word on the opening block. How Stade handle that will go a long way to defining their season.

Officially, nine players (including hooker Remi Bonfils, who retired on medical grounds) left Stade Francais at the end of last season. If we include mid-season departures, that figure rises to 17.

Stade Francais get their man … again

But the most important arrival is returning head coach Gonzalo Quesada. Rarely has it been so apparent that a coach has to truly understand a club’s philosophy. Heyneke Meyer may have been a thoroughly decent man and a World Cup-winning coach, but the players could not buy-in to his battering-ram rugby ethos. The fans certainly didn’t.

Quesada, Stade know, gets it. Now he has to prove to owner Hans-Peter Wild he gets it. It was, perhaps, telling that Wild was very much present at that fateful training camp in Nice recently, where he promise-warned that he would ‘be more present’ at the club than in previous seasons.

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Wild knows rugby. But he needs to pull off a difficult balancing act. Too much Wild could be a bad thing for Stade and Quesada in what is – yet another – crucial rebuild year.

Arrivals

Vasil Kakovin; Gerbrandt Grobler; Marcos Kremer; Telusa Veainu

Departures

Thierry Futeu; Sione Anga’aelangi; Hugh Pyle; Joketani Koroi; Clement Daguin; Lionel Mapoe; Alexis Palisson; Ruan Combrinck

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Flankly 8 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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