It’s not often that a venue of the calibre of the Principality Stadium gets the chance to host something new, but that’s exactly what the iconic home of Welsh rugby will do on Sunday 2 April.
The 74,500 seater stadium at the heart of the Welsh capital will stage the European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final between the Ospreys and Stade Francais Paris on that day (17:45 kick-off) with the Welsh region hoping to make it seven wins in a row in the competition after making history by securing a maximum 30 points in the pool stages.
The game will come after the Wales have played six matches at the ground this season, two weeks before the Ospreys play there against Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 Judgement Day fixture and two months before the Uefa Champions League final is hosted for the first time at the ground.
The Ospreys are no stranger to the venue having twice played Anglo-Welsh fixtures there as well as taking part in the annual Judgement Day derby clashes between the four Welsh regions in the PRO12. If will be a first for Stade Francais, however, who will become the fifth club from the TOP 14 to play at the ground.
Toulouse lead the way with four appearances – the inaugural European Cup final in 1996, the 2008 final against Munster Rugby and two quarter-finals against the Blues – and Biarritz Olympique, Brive and RC Toulon have also featured in European Cup finals.
Stade Francais have played in Cardiff before. They were beaten 31-21 at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park by the Blues in the pool stages of the European Cup in the 2007/08 season and lost the 2011 Challenge Cup final 19-18 to Harlequins. Even further back in time they played Cardiff in 1905, going down to a 44-8 defeat.
But their first trip to Wales was even earlier than that. In 1900 they became the first French visitors to what is now the Ospreys region when they played Swansea at St Helen’s in front of a crowd of 12,000.
If they had huge curiosity value in those days, what can fans expect from the two teams in 2017? It promises to be one of the games of the quarter-final weekend in Europe with the Principality Stadium providing a true international backdrop.
OSPREYS V STADE FRANCAIS PARIS . . . DID YOU KNOW?
- The two squads boast international players from 11 different nations
- The sides are led by national captains Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) and Sergio Parisse (Italy)
- Parisse (124) and Jones (114) are in World Rugby’s Top 20 most capped players of all-time
- Stade Francais director of rugby Gonzalo Quesada played in the opening game of the 1999 Rugby World Cup at the then Millennium Stadium against Wales in 1999
- Forwards coach Simon Raiwalui played for Newport in their Welsh Cup Final win over Neath at the venue in 2001 and also played there for the Fiji (2002) and Pacific Islands (2006) against Wales
- The youngest player on the pitch could be Ospreys flying wing Keelan Giles who has scored seven tries in four games to date in the Challenge Cup in his debut season
- At the other end of the age spectrum is 36-year-old Pascal Pape, who played for Stade Francais in their 2011 Challenge Cup final defeat to Harlequins in Cardiff
- There could be four international outside halves battling it out – Dan Biggar and Sam Davies for Ospreys and Jules Plisson and Morne Steyn for Stade Francais
- Stade Francais have two Georgian giants to fit into their front row in international props in loose head Zurabi Zhvania (19st 9lb) and tight head Giorgi Melikidze (18st 5lb)
- Ospreys have five international front rowers of their own – Nicky Smith, Paul James, Scott Baldwin, Dmitri Arhip and new recruit Brian Mujati
- One of the most fascinating battles could come at scrum half, where Ospreys have Wales No 9 Rhys Webb and Stade Francais have Australian star Will Genia
- Genia has played six times at the venue with Australia and never been on the losing side