LONDON: Both Gloucester and Stade Francais will try to take the edge off disappointing league seasons when they meet in the European Challenge Cup final at Murrayfield on Friday.
Gloucester finished ninth in the 12-team English Premiership and won just seven out of 22 league games.
Meanwhile Stade’s very existence was under threat this season until a proposed merger with Paris rivals Racing 92, which resulted in a disruptive players’ strike, fell through.
Stade subsequently failed to qualify for the Top 14 play-offs, having been crowned champions of France two seasons ago.
So while lifting European rugby union’s second-tier trophy will be welcome, victory in Edinburgh won’t mask the underlying issues at either club.
“We are not what where we want to be in the league,” said Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard.
“It is just as frustrating for us as it is for people watching,” the Wales international added.
“We beat La Rochelle away in the Challenge Cup semi-finals – they were undefeated at home this season – then not to back it up against Bath in the league the following week was disappointing.”
Stade have won all three previous meetings with southwest side Gloucester, who are looking for a third Challenge Cup triumph after winning their two previous finals against London Irish (2006) and Edinburgh (2015).
By contrast, Stade will be looking for their first major continental trophy after losing two European Cup finals and two Challenge Cup finals.
They are now up against a Gloucester team who have won 10 of their last 11 games against Top 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup.
Stade saw their slim hopes of a Top 14 play-off spot disappear Wednesday when French rugby bosses rejected an appeal against Montpellier for fielding an ineligible player.
Had Stade’s appeal succeeded they might have been awarded victory in last weekend’s 27-26 loss to Montpellier and thus leapfrogged Racing into the final play-off berth.
The French Rugby League (LNR) also handed Stade lock Pascal Pape a three-week ban for his red card in their 27-23 win over Racing 10 days ago that ruled the experienced second row out of Friday’s final.
But Stade, who beat Bath in the semi-finals, can still call upon the likes of France’s Jules Plisson and South Africa’s Morne Steyn
“Stade are a good team,” Hibbard said.
“There are some world-class players there, and if you give them a sniff of space, they are going to take it.”
Friday’s match gives Gloucester scrum-half and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, a recent call-up to the British and Irish Lions, a chance to end his Cherry and Whites career with a trophy at a venue he knows well from numerous Test appearances before he joins French giants Clermont next season.
“It is always good to finish the season with some silverware,” said Hibbard.
“The season has been up and down, and it is about giving something back to the fans.”
Former Stade star Christophe Dominici, the now retired France wing, is among a group of ex-players who have made a bid to buy the club.
“Everything is ready on the sports side,” explained Dominici, adding his group could put together “a very beautiful team” for next season.--AFP