Team effort: Stade Francais celebrate beating Clermont in last season’s final. Photo: Getty Images As the 2015-16 Top 14 kicks off in France, Rugby World talks to Stade Francais coach Gonzalo Quesada about defending their title GQ: When we bring in big names it’s important we believe they can fit into our framework. Our president has been strongly criticised by some people who said he was not ambitious enough with his recruitment compared to other clubs. But we are very careful and bring in guys only when we’re sure they are going to add to the squad. So that’s why if you compare us to the likes of Toulon, Racing and Montpellier we recruit fewer players because we recruit carefully so we don’t create problems inside the squad.RW: Are there any young academy players we should keep an eye on?GQ: When I arrived here our academy was not our strength. Last year was better, and this year it will be very strong with the likes of Mathieu de Giovanni and Sekou Macalou. Increasingly I prefer to push our kids up (from the academy) rather than just grab any high-profile player who comes along.RW: Were you approached for the France job earlier this year?GQ: Before the official application process was launched I had a couple of phone calls from the federation sounding me out, seeing if I could be interested in applying. That was it. Then I heard there was a shortlist and I was on it but I don’t know how real that was – it may just have been rumours. But anyway I re-signed with Stade in December and even if I have a clause in my contract releasing me if I’m called by a national team, I am still in the middle of my project here.Top trio: Gonzalo Quesada (right) celebrates with Sergio Parisse and Thomas Savare. Photo: Getty ImagesRW: How impressed are you with what Simon Mannix has achieved in his first season in charge of Pau?GQ: I know Pau well because I played there and he’s done well to come in, keep the good stuff that was there but also bring in a new style and get everyone behind him in the process. It’s a big achievement because it’s always tough to come into a new club, particularly if you’re a foreigner.RW: Talking of tough, Parisians have a reputation for being hard to please. How have you found the Stade fans since your arrival?GQ: It is tough because Parisians have so many things to do outside rugby. In Toulon or Perpignan rugby is the big entertainment. In Paris you are in competition with other sports, theatres, operas, music concerts and so on. I think we’ve created a spirit within the club that the fans can feel and which they respond to and which brings in new fans. Also our style is attractive and nice to watch. It would be hard to convince Parisians to come and watch us if we played slow, conservative rugby.RW: How much greater is the pressure now you’re champs? This time last year few people imagined Stade Francais would end up being crowned Top 14 champions for the 2014-15 season. Toulon, Clermont or even Parisian rivals Racing maybe, but not Stade who hadn’t even managed to qualify for the inaugural European Champions Cup the previous season. What no one envisaged was the strength of the Stade Francais spirit, nor the boldness of their game plan, nor the tactical nous of their coach, Gonzalo Quesada. As Stade prepare to start the defence of their title against Pau on Sunday, Rugby World sat down with Quesada to learn more about the secrets of his success…Rugby World: Did you start last season believing you were title contenders?Gonzalo Quesada: No. I knew that one day we were going to do something interesting, we had the squad with the quality and the spirit. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. I thought it might be the season after.RW: So the reason for the success?GQ: When I arrived at Stade I established a framework that set out how we would work and train, the rules we’d respect, squad discipline, and our playing philosophy. But I also created within the framework the space for players to be responsible for their own destinies. In the first season it was all new to them and it wasn’t until start of the second season that I started to see they believed in what we were trying to achieve.RW: Was there a point last season you started to believe you could win the title?GQ: We had a spell where we lost three out of four games, including our first home defeat (to Oyonnax on 31 January). I think it was during that period we got stronger. We spent four days in the mountains, going out having nice meals together, laughing, drinking beer. It was a risk because it was the most anti-sport holiday you could imagine. But the squad returned stronger than ever – albeit with a big headache and a couple of extra kilos – and then we put 40 points on Clermont in our next game. That was the first moment that I saw the spirit within the squad and believed we could do something special.Turning point: Remi Bonfils attacks during Stade’s 40-26 win over Clermont in March. Photo: Getty ImagesRW: Why did you accept the Stade job in 2013 given their recent financial problems?GQ: Yes, when I signed on at this club it was quite unstable with a lot of changes in the structures, the players, the coaches. But I know this club. I played here and kept in contact with them and I like its identity. When they offered me the position some of my friends said, ‘Don’t go there, you’re too young, your career is going really well and you’ll blow it there’. But I knew it wasn’t that suicidal because I know the spirit of the club.RW: Describe your relationship with club president Thomas Savare.GQ: From the first day Thomas understood that I arrived willing to work hard and do my best to get Stade back to where it had been. I won his trust and in return he gives me freedom. I talk to Thomas once or twice a week, or maybe not for a fortnight. I know that I’m very lucky because I have contacts at other clubs who tell me some presidents are always there, wanting to know what’s going on, putting an extra bit of pressure on the staff. I feel I don’t have that extra pressure, that Thomas believes in what we are doing and he let me do things my way.RW: Stade haven’t recruited as extravagantly as their rivals in recent years. Why not? LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS GQ: We’re aware it’s a lot more now because everyone has a special motivation to beat us. We did some work on that during our pre-season training camp – identifying the dangers we face from the outside and from the inside. By that I mean how being champions might affect our behaviour and our attitude. It threw up some interesting results and I think it will help us during the season. But in a way we’re lucky that the start of the season is so disrupted by the World Cup. I’m missing 13 players so right now we’re more focused on trying to get through this month with so many key players missing rather than worrying about being champions.For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here. Find out how to download the magazine here.
Key man: Munster’s CJ Stander scores his sides second try. (Photo: Inpho) Flashpoint: Parling lies prone (right) next to Barrington, with Barritt in the centre (Getty Images)The SinnersBrad Barritt and Ian TempestSaracens prop Richard Barrington was sent off for knocking out Geoff Parling with a high hit in the early stages of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs. But Parling’s head only hit Barrington’s shoulder because Brad Barritt had already walloped the Chiefs lock with a swinging left arm, so how Barritt stayed on the pitch for the remainder of the game is anyone’s guess.Referee Ian Tempest looked at the video replays and as soon as he realised Barrington’s shoulder had done the most damage he just dismissed Barritt’s part in the incident. Barrington deserved to be sent off, but Barritt should have gone too – and the England centre looked mighty relieved to get away with it.Annoyingly for Exeter, Barritt went on to play a major part in the 13-13 draw, as one of Saracens’ outstanding players on the day. Michael Rhodes and Alex LozowskiSaracens had to play for 70 minutes against Exeter Chiefs with 14 men after having Richard Barrington sent off, but managed to eke out a 13-13 draw, thanks partly to magnificent defence from flanker Michael Rhodes and fly-half Alex Lozowski.With his Exeter team leading 10-3, Don Armand charged up the right from outside the 22. Chris Wyles attempted to tackle him into touch but Armand was still set to score, only for Rhodes to dive in and knock the ball out of his hands at the last second.Wonder-try: Jack Nowell dives in at the corner for Exeter against Saracens. (Photo: Getty Images)Lozowski had already made a terrific try-saving tackle on Thomas Waldrom and he put in another big hit on Sam Hill. Lozowski also controlled the game well in attack for Saracens, outshining the Chiefs’ Gareth Steenson who unwisely set himself up for a drop-goal from almost halfway with three minutes of the match remaining. If had waited a few more phases, an easier chance might have been created.An honourable mention must go to Jack Nowell for scoring a terrific try. The Chiefs wing leapt up and stretched out his right hand to gather a kick from Steenson then dived and reached to touch it down in the corner. It was a piece of confident skill any winger would be proud of. CJ StanderMunster put Racing 92 to the sword in their rearranged European Champions Cup clash, trouncing their hosts 32-7. The whole Munster team did their late coach Anthony Foley proud – the match had been postponed from the weekend of his death in October – but CJ Stander was the stand-out performer.The No 8 was everywhere in attack, carrying 23 times, making 63 metres and beating four defenders. He found the time and energy to make eight tackles as well. None of his Munster team mates made it into double-figures for carries and Stander was deservedly named Man of the Match. Running man: Tommy Seymour’s pace was too much for Cardiff. (Photo: Inpho)Tommy SeymourWing Tommy Seymour was on fire in Glasgow Warriors’ 29-15 Guinness Pro12 triumph over Cardiff Blues. He wasn’t among the try-scorers but Seymour helped create two tries for full-back Peter Murchie in the second half. For the first he cut a terrific line from the Blues’ ten metre line and sprinted up to the 22 and from there Glasgow turned the pressure into a try.Just seven minutes later Seymour burst through the defence again, this time from the 22, scorching from right to left and allowing Murchie to finish off the move.Seymour’s pace, timing and judgement were too much for the Blues and Scotland fans will hope he carries this form into the RBS Six Nations next month. Outstanding: Jason Woodward created and scored a great try for Bristol. (Photo: Getty Images)Jason Woodward and Louis PicamolesNorthampton beat Bristol 32-26 but Bristol’s Kiwi full-back Jason Woodward almost earned the visitors a memorable win at Franklin’s Gardens.With his team trailing just 21-16 after 51 minutes, Woodward got the ball inside his 22 and dinked a kick up the left wing for Tom Varndell to chase. The wing gathered it and Woodward sprinted up in support, so he was on hand to take a well-timed pass from Varndell as they crossed the Northampton ten-metre line. From there Woodward easily outpaced Luther Burrell and scored the try which put Bristol 23-21 ahead. Sadly for them they couldn’t hang on, but Woodward is making Bristol a force to be reckoned with.Louis Picamoles is among the Saints for a fantastic charging run which set up Tom Wood’s try. The Frenchman handed off and barged through no less than five defenders to open the door for Wood. Flying Falcon: Vereniki Goneva on the attack for Newcastle v Bath. (Photo: Getty Images)Vereniki Goneva and Joel HodgsonNewcastle Falcons scored two tries in the last eight minutes of their Aviva Premiership clash with Bath to come from 22-10 down to win 24-22. Fly-half Joel Hodgson played a big part in their fightback, sticking to the game plan, kicking out of hand well to put Bath under pressure and converting the last two tries to make sure the Falcons’ efforts resulted in a win. The Saints LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS TAGS: Highlight On the charge: Olly Cracknell had a terrific game for the Ospreys. (Photo: Huw Evans Agency)Olly CracknellAshley Beck scored the bonus-point try for the Ospreys in their 29-7 trouncing of Connacht, thanks to a fine floated pass from Dan Biggar, but Olly Cracknell was arguably the most influential player for the Welsh region.The blindside seemed to be all over the pitch in this win, which enabled the Ospreys to go top in the Pro12. He carried the ball in the lead-up to Dan Baker’s opening try, then scored one of his own two minutes later with a powerful break from the 22. Cracknell was involved again in the build-up to the Ospreys’ third try, which Nicky Smith scored.Steve Tandy’s team are not short of back-row riches, but the 22-year-old is standing up to be counted. Will CliffBristol scrum-half Will Cliff has done plenty of good work for his team in the past but he made a costly error during Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton.With 54 minutes gone, Bristol had just taken a 23-21 lead and needed to consolidate. Stephen Myler kicked the restart long into the Bristol 22, Cliff tried a clearance kick but JJ Hanrahan was far too close for comfort and the Northampton centre charged the kick down, collected it and scored the simplest of tries. That put the Saints back in front again and Bristol were unable to seize back the initiative. Which players were the heroes for their teams in the Aviva Premiership, Guinness Pro12 and Champions Cup matches, and who needs to make an extra effort next time? Newcastle’s announcerThe Newcastle fans took a bit of stick on social media on Friday evening for noisily jeering George Ford as he lined up a penalty kick. However, for me the greater sinner was the PA announcer at Kingston Park, who kept shouting out during passages of play.“Let’s turn up the volume…make some NOISE” he hollered, as Newcastle attacked the Bath line. I might be old fashioned, but I tend to think that if the Falcons supporters aren’t inspired enough by the excitement on the pitch to cheer and shout of their own accord, it is a pretty sad state of affairs. I wish the PA guy would stick to announcing scorers and replacements and leave the players to whip their supporters into a frenzy. Vereniki Goneva was also outstanding. He picked up from a ruck inside the 22, charged through a gap and stepped Anthony Watson to score Newcastle’s first try, and he helped create their match-winning score with a terrific break up the left wing. Goneva battered his way through Semesa Rokoduguni and Watson and from the subsequent pressure position Ben Harris crashed over for the try. A cut above? Max Lahiff’s eye-catching hair style (left). (Photo: Getty Images)Max LahiffThe Bath prop’s hair style has evolved in recent months from a standard “high and tight” to something a bit more outlandish. A top-knot now sits on the back of his head and the back and sides are shaved almost clean. Time to make an appointment at the salon of shame, I feel!