Leicester records a 33-20 bonus-point win against Stade Francais in their European Championship Cup opener on Friday night
Tigers score four tries through Niki Goneva, Matt Smith, Brendon O’Connor and Ben Youngs with Owen Williams and Seremaia Bai completing the hosts total from the tee
Julien Tomas, Paul Williams and Julien Arias cross the whitewash for the visitors with Morne Steyn adding five points from the tee
BY OLIVER ROBY
Leicester Tigers got their Champions’ Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a hard-fought bonus-point win over French champions Stade Francais at Welford Road.
After a slow start, it was Stade substitute Julien Tomas who broke the deadlock on 16 minutes, Morne Steyn hitting a penalty shortly after.
But Leicester crashed ahead courtesy of three unanswered tries, Niki Goneva scoring before supplying Matt Smith, who finished well, then Brendon O’Connor got over just after the interval. Owen Williams then added a conversion and a penalty goal to leave the hosts 20-8 up.
But Stade hit back on 52 minutes as Paul Williams stole in before Ben Youngs’ try, converted by Owen Williams, restored Tigers’ advantage ahead of Williams’ second penalty of the night. That meant a somewhat controversial Julien Arias try late on proved to be a consolation as Seremaia Bai rounded off the scoring with a penalty on the hooter.
The opening to the game proved to be steady with Leicester’s ferocious defence dominating proceedings, but it was Tomas who finally broke the deadlock with a stunning try as Stade’s right edge showed typically quick Top 14 hands to race into space before flipping the ball inside and out to leave a number of defenders stranded, and the sub strolled in.
Steyn made up for a missed conversion with an eye-catching penalty from inside his own half to leave the visitors eight points up, but Leicester soon swallowed up that advantage when the all-action Goneva out-stepped Stade number 14 Arias to trundle over after a well-worked line break.
Williams added the two from out wide and Tigers took the lead for the first time just before the interval, Smith on the end of a lighting-quick handling move, Goneva with the final pass, before he impressively crashed through a would-be defender on his way to the line.
Leicester produced a fast start to the second half and O’Connor was the beneficiary, pouncing on a scrappy error from the visitors , the flanker then showing superb pace to sweep over from 40 metres out.
Williams couldn’t improve but added a penalty shortly after to open up a 12-point lead.
The fly half’s namesake, former Sale centre, Paul, ate into that lead with a try on the back of some classy recycling work, Steyn adding the extras, but that was as good as it got for the hardcore travelling supporters as Youngs replied within moments.
With 25 minutes to play, the tricky scrum-half showed his brimming confidence to snipe in while the All Pinks were contesting a referee’s decision and seal a try-scoring bonus point in the process.
Williams made it a seven-pointer to put the hosts out of reach and they began to run down the clock with defence coming to the fore once more. Williams thrashed over his second penalty of the night on 71 minutes with Gonzalo Quesada’s men continually prevented from breaching Leicester’s stellar defence.
But their best efforts finally produced a try as Arias scorched in on 75 minutes, evading a number of defenders on his way to the line from range. Steyn couldn’t convert and Seremaia Bai, a late replacement for Owen Williams, rounded off the scoring on the hooter with a penalty to cap off an enjoyable night for the home side.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Leicester Tigers: Niki Goneva
In an energetic team display, Goneva was everywhere. The winger controlled the hosts’ back line, toiling all night, clearing up a number of dangerous kicks and finishing his night with 15 carries to his name. His try just before half time, plus a silky assist for Matt Smith six minutes later, also proved crucial in the end.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait (c), 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Matt Smith, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jérémy Sinzelle, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Sylvain Nicolas, 6 Patrick Sio, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Adrien Oleon, 2 Laurent Panis, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Dany Priso, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Waisea, 23 Josaia Raisuqe.
Date: Friday, November 13
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Timekeeper: Gabriele Villari (Italy)
Assessor: Clive Leeke (England)