Northampton Saints pulled out a marvellous second-half fightback despite having a man sent off to beat Stade Francais 23-22 in the European Rugby Champions Cup play-off final.
The Top 14 side dominated the first half at Franklin’s Gardens, building a 22-9 half-time lead by running in three tries in the opening 40 minutes.
Ben Foden took advantage of a Stade yellow card to cut the gap to six points early in the second half, only for the hosts’ hopes to suffer a huge blow when Tom Wood was shown a red card for stamping on Djibril Camara.
At that point Northampton were down to 13 men having seen Rory Hutchinson sin-binned, but Stade were unable to take advantage.
Instead it was Saints who completed a hugely impressive comeback, Harry Mallinder flinging a huge pass out to the left flank, where Ahsee Tuala wriggled his way through several attempted tackles to dot down and ensure a spot in next season’s competition.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 26, 2017
Stade led after just three minutes as Will Genia fed Waisea Nayacalevu for the opening try after Camara had sliced through the Northampton defence.
Jules Plisson converted and then made it 10-0 with a penalty before a three-pointer from Mallinder restored the seven-point gap.
Meyer Bosman surged through a huge hole to send Jeremy Sinzelle over in the left-hand corner and, though Mallinder added two further penalties, they were sandwiched by a try for Camara as Stade took command.
But Stade hooker Remi Bonfils was sin-binned shortly after the second-half restart for a trip on Mallinder and Foden darted over to cut the visitors’ lead to just six points.
Hutchinson saw yellow for taking out Raphael Lakafia in the air and the game looked to have turned back in Stade’s favour when Wood was given his marching orders 17 minutes from time.
However, feeling Camara was guilty of histrionics, the dismissal galvanised Northampton and what had looked a highly improbable comeback was completed through Tuala’s excellent finish.
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