Stade Francais 15 Bath 13
Bath were dumped out of Europe as Julien Arias’ brace of tries earned Stade Francais a hard-fought victory in Paris today.
The West Country side needed to win to remain in with a chance of qualifying for the latter stages of either the Heineken Cup or its sister competition, the Amlin Challenge Cup.
But they slipped to their fourth Pool Four defeat in five matches to stay bottom of the pile, with Arias scoring both his tries in the first half to give Stade a 15-3 lead by the 34th minute.
Michael Claassens’ try and a penalty by Nicky Little – his second of the match to add to a conversion – brought Bath to within two points of Stade but the hosts held on with little trouble and they stay top of the group.
The match was played in dreadful weather conditions, with rain having come down in Paris hours before kick-off.
It meant the ball was like a bar of soap, with Bath full-back Joe Maddock encountering early problems fielding up-and-unders. He dropped two in the space of a minute around the quarter-hour mark, the second of which led to a penalty that Lionel Beauxis slotted over to give Stade the lead.
Little replied with one of his own in the 19th minute but Stade were soon back in front when Mathieu Bastareaud’s kick ahead was collected by Arias, who went over for the try down the left.
Former England lock Danny Grewcock riled the crowd – and a number of Stade players too – with a late hit on Arias that somehow went unpunished as the game continued to be a battle of attrition on a muddy pitch.
The Stade winger recovered to deal Bath a further blow by scoring his second try of the match, in the 34th minute, finishing off a free-flowing move on the right that involved James Haskell, Hugo Southwell and Dimitri Szarzewski.
But the visitors went into the break only five points behind thanks to some laughable play by Beauxis, who attempted to fly-hack away Southwell’s pass.
The full-back succeeded only in kicking thin air and Claassens fell on the loose ball for a try Little converted.
The Fijian fly-half then landed a 42nd-minute penalty as Bath closed to within two points at 15-13.
The pitch, especially its middle section, had cut up quite substantially by that stage so both sides’ backs saw little of the ball out wide.
Stade were still dominating possession but Bath’s close-quarter defence was strong, frustrating the home crowd, who became even more incensed when Beauxis missed a simple penalty attempt on the hour mark.
Little, who kicked all three of his shots at goal but less than impressive in other facets of his game, was replaced with 18 minutes left as Ryan Davis came on in a late bid to prolong Bath’s European adventure.
There was not a try-scoring opportunity worthy of the name as Stade held out comfortably to go four points clear at the top of the pool. They just need to avoid defeat at Edinburgh next week to progress.