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London Welsh 19, Stade Francais 68
IT was billed as an historic day, but London Welsh’s European debut proved one they will want to forget quickly.
The Exiles were overrun by their famous French visitors in a nine-try Amlin Challenge Cup mauling, which saw their defence repeatedly exposed.
Welsh head coach Lyn Jones admitted afterwards that his players had been taught an embarrassing rugby lesson and the question now is how they respond.
So far the Exiles have coped well with life in the Aviva Premiership, but this time they looked out of their depth from the start.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off in memory of Welsh stalwarts from the 1970s, Billy Hullin and John Vaughan, who died last week.
Welsh made seven changes to the side that faced Saracens in their previous match, while Stade rotated 12 of their line-up.
The Exiles got off to a very sloppy start when scrum half Nick Runciman’s box kick was charged down and hooker Remy Bonfils was gifted the easiest of tries inside two minutes.
Argentina international Felipe Contepomi converted, but Welsh quickly replied with a penalty from fly half Gavin Henson.
Henson was on target again after nine minutes to make it 7-6, but his side were soon penalised for collapsing a scrum and Contepomi made no mistake.
Stade exuded speed and some quick hands led to full back Hugo Bonneval cruising over on the right after 16 minutes.
Welsh, however, were decidedly off the pace and were punished again four minutes later when Contepomi’s break and some good recycling allowed centre Waisea Nayacalevu space to power over.
Contepomi converted for 22-6 and the Exiles were really up against it.
They didn’t help themslves by twice being penalised for crossing when in promising positions.
It got worse before the half-hour mark when Stade tapped one of the numerous penalties they were winning and before Welsh could react, Nayacalevu was scampering over for his second try, Contepomi again converting.
The Exiles gave their fans something to cheer on 31 minutes when a well-worked lineout move saw hooker Greg Bateman dive over for a try converted by Henson.
Henson was not getting much chance to create with ball in hand, but his kicking off the tee was spot on, especially the monster penalty he landed from inside his own half to make it 29-16.
The old master Contepomi only missed one kick all half, alongside his obvious flair, and his second penalty made it 32-16 to Stade at the break.
Stade also grabbed the first points of the second period with a sweet drop goal from Bonneval, Henson landing a penalty in reply.
It was all over as a contest on 48 minutes when Stade wing Francis Fainifo collected his own chip to score try No 5 with the Welsh defence exposed.
Contepomi’s touchline conversion made it 42-19.
We were well into rout territory when Bonfils bagged his second try on 54 minutes and lock Juan Cruz Guillemain got in on the act five minutes later after Welsh captain Jon Mills was yellow-carded.
Contepomi converted both as Stade roared into a 56-19 lead.
Oxford Blue Anton Van Zyl was replaced before the hour mark, so could not join his fellow second row Guillemain on the try tally.
The match died down as both sides brought on a series of replacements before a loose Henson pass almost led to a Stade try.
Stade did score on 74 minutes when Bonneval reacted first to a bouncing ball and sprinted in from halfway, Contepomi converting.
The Argentine ace then produced a superb show and go to get on the scoresheet himself.
Welsh pressed for a consolation try, but a knock-on from flanker Mike Denbee ended their best chance and the final whistle brought an end to a sorry European debut.