Preview: Stade Français v Harlequins

Date published: May 20 2011

Stade Français and Harlequins will seek to salvage their respective seasons in Friday's Amlin Challenge Cup Final in Cardiff.

Stade Français and Harlequins will seek to salvage their respective seasons in Friday's Amlin Challenge Cup Final at Cardiff City Stadium.

With neither club having qualified for next season's Heineken Cup via their domestic leagues, the stakes will be even higher as Friday's clash offers the last chance to book a place in Europe's top flight.

Of course the lure of European silverware will be motivation enough as the two world famous clubs head to the Welsh capital.

Twice losing finalists in the Heineken Cup, this is Stade Français's first Challenge Cup Final. It is quite remarkable that a club with the Parisians' history is still in search of a first European title.

Despite a horribly disappointing Top 14 season, Stade Français are unbeaten in the Challenge Cup this term, their first under the guidance of Michael Cheika.

Victory against Top 14 semi-finalists Montpellier and Clermont in the knock-out stages showed that France's glamour club still has what it takes on the big occasions.

Harlequins by contrast are looking for a third Amlin title after previous success in the tournament in 2001 and 2004. Quins are bidding to become the first triple tournament title winners

They began their campaign this year with defeat away to Bayonne but fought back to control Pool One and then beat former European Champions London Wasps and Munster en route to the Final.

Their semi-final victory at Thomond park will go down as one of the biggest upsets in European club rugby history and certainly bodes well for the final.

Quins coach Conor O'Shea is able to field the same starting XV which beat Munster in Limerick with the only change being on the bench where Peter Browne comes on to the bench for the unfortunate Tomas Vallejos who broke his thumb in Ireland.

The front row sees Joe Marler and Joe Gray returning to the starting XV having missed the recent narrow loss to Saracens through injury leaving the experience of Matt Cairns and Quins veteran Ceri Jones, ready to come off the bench for his final Quins appearance.

James Johnston retains his place at the cornerstone of a pack showing no other changes from recent showings.

Nick Evans has also recovered from the knock he picked up against Munster and takes his place back in the starting line up alongside Danny Care.

The Stade Français line-up will have an English feel to it with flank James Haskell and lock Tom Palmer in the starting XV while Ollie Phillips is on the bench.

There are two notable absentees however as full-back Hugo Southwell has a sprained knee and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski has not recovered in time from a Achille Tendon surgery.

Players to watch:

For Stade Français: In his final game for Stade Français before moving to Toulouse, French international fly-half Lionel Beauxis will be pulling the strings on attack for the Parisians. In many peoples' opinion the most consistent fly-half in France, Beauxis missed out on a spot in les Bleus' World Cup squad, but Quins should not bank on him missing to many shots at goal. Another man would isn't going to New Zealand and who is potentially set to move away from the capital (to Toulon) is barnstorming centre Mathieu Bastareaud. Hit him low or you will get run over!

For Harlequins: Arguably the most wanted man in New Zealand at the moment Nick Evans is the kingpin in the Quins offensive. The former All Black is truly a world-class pivot and Quins will be thanking their lucky stars they managed to convince him not to head back home before the World Cup. If Evans fires, any team he is playing for is tough to beat.

Head-to-head: The battle of the back-rows should offer a clash of epic proportions as Sergio Parisse, James Haskell and Antoine Burban duke it out with Nick Easter, Chris Robshaw and Maurie Fa'asavalu. The tussle between England team-mates on opposing team should make for classic entrainment while Quins ability to keep Parisse quiet could to a game-changer. According to the Amlin Opta Index, Robshaw has been Harlequins' top performing forward in the Challenge Cup this season. The back-rower has made 59 tackles in Europe this season, only three players (including Haskell) have made more than this. His discipline has also impressed, having conceded only two penalties in his six appearances. Haskell has been Stade Français' leading defensive player in Europe this season having made an impressive 64 tackles, including 22 against Clermont in the semi-final.

Prediction: It'll be a close one but Stade Français have flattered to deceive this season. Quins should have plenty of support too so we'll go with the English club. Harlequins by five points.

The teams:

Stade Français: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Guillaume Bousses, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Antoine Burban, 6 James Haskell, 5 Pascal Pape, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 David Attoub, 2 Remi Bonfils, 1 Rodrigo Roncero,
Replacements: 16 Damien Weber, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Arnaud Marchois, 20 Pierre Rabadan, 21 Juan Leguizamon, 22 Noel Oelschig, 23 Ollie Phillips,

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Matt Cairns, 17 Ceri Jones, 18 Mark Lambert, 19 Pete Browne, 20 Will Skinner, 21 Dave Moore. 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Ross Chisholm

Date: Friday, May 20
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18.45 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy