4 years ago
18 October 2009, 9:43am
A losing bonus point against the Pool 4 favourites means that Bath Rugby face an uphill task to claim a Heineken Cup quarter-final place for the second year running.
And it was that man Julien Dupuy, who broke Bath hearts at the Walkers Stadium with a late try for Leicester last Easter, who again delivered the stiletto under the ribs. This time it was a 79th minute penalty to give Stade the lead for the first time since the 11th minute.
Head coach Steve Meehan admitted he was sick of the sight of the canny little scrum-half but could at least take pride in the way the team, playing with a style that matched their snazzy new shirts, recovered their poise and panache to score two excellent tries to one. And Stade's try was a very late one at that, scored by Englishman Ollie Phillips in the 76th minute.
"Yeah, that was pretty hard to take," said Meehan. "The way we saw it we played some really good rugby in that first half. We'd set out this week to come out of the doldrums because we felt we hadn't really been true to ourselves.
"Today we had the organisation in place and we used the width well. We caused them some problems and went into the half-time break with a well-deserved lead. After that I suppose it could be said we played a little bit too much but I won't be too hard on the players over that because we've been trying to get away from being, I suppose, unexpressive.
"The guys worked hard and unfortunately were penalised a few times too often and Stade took their try in typical fashion. Obviously it's disappointing but we should be happy with the way we went about things; we've just got to take our opportunities and finish games off."
On his side's prospects of progressing in the Heineken Cup, Meehan added: "We're going to have to play very well in our remaining four games and probably some results are going to have to go our way. We played a far better brand of rugby than we did last week and we've turned that around in a week and we will continue to try to develop this. We go back into the Premiership now with two home games to come. With hard work and application, we can win those games and be up and running again."
Bath initially found themselves under pressure as Stade fly-half Lionel Beauxis launched a high ball on to the home 22 only for skipper Rodrigo Roncero to ignore an overlap to his right. Presented with a penalty on the Bath line, they then turned down a straightforward kick but conceded a scrum from which Ben Skirving lifted the siege with a powerful drive off the back of the set piece.
Having failed to press home the advantage from short range it was left to Beauxis to open the scoring for the Frenchmen with a 48-metre dropped goal after six minutes.
A Nick Abendanon break, supported by Julian Salvi, Stuart Hooper and Rob Hawkins, on as a blood replacement, set up a promising position in the right corner but David Flatman and Hawkins again were driven back from the line.
On 11 minutes Little brought the scores level after Stade were penalised at a ruck and Bath upped the tempo. Twice in a couple of minutes Matt Banahan was set free on the left wing, bowling defenders out of his way as Bath ran the ball enterprisingly along their own 22.
It was high risk stuff however and after spilling the ball, they found themselves stretched by a French attack on the blindside of a scrum, lost a line-out and then conceded a penalty to Dupuy with 18 minutes on the clock.
Back came Bath with two quality tries in the space of four minutes. First Duncan Bell won a turnover in midfield and Nicky Little sent Johnny Fa'amatuainu barrelling through almost to the line. When the ball came back the Fijian fly-half dummied his way over in the corner, although he was unable to convert his own try.
On 24 minutes, Little set up a ruck on the 22, leaving Abendanon to fill in at fly-half and spin a long miss pass out to Matt Banahan. The big wing sent an equally accurate pass out to Matt Carraro who drifted outside his defender and crashed through Hugo Southwell's tackle to touch down. This time, Little was on target with the conversion and Bath were 15-6 ahead.
Dupuy replied immediately with a penalty from the restart but Little banged over two kicks himself as Stade skipper Rodrigo Roncero was given a ticking off by referee George Clancy for his team's repeated infringements. But the Irish official also had a beady eye on Bath and gave Dupuy a chance to cut the lead to 21-12 just before the break. It could have been worse though as the French ran a penalty advantage into touch and the whistle blew for half-time.
No sooner had the game restarted after the break than Mr Clancy sent French lock Pascal Pape to the bin for ten minutes for kicking the ball out of Claassen's hands at a ruck. Little took the lead to 12 points but Dupuy continued the tit-for-tat with his third penalty and cut the margin to six points after Banahan was controversially sin-binned for an illegal tackle on 54 minutes.
Meehan's verdict: "It was a terrific tackle, legal; he hits him in chest, wraps his arms around him - a real bell ringer - and gets a yellow card. Now where does that come from?"
Banahan had been having one of his most effective games for the club, said: "I thought I had won a penalty because I hadn't hit him high; I wrapped my arms around him. It's frustrating to see that and then for them to get a penalty which they put through the posts and we lose by two points. But the referee's decision is final."
There was actually no score while Banahan was off the field but Bath found it increasingly difficult to get out of their own half and, after Dupuy and Little swapped further penalties, the stage was set for Stade's decisive late surge.
By Kevin Coughlan
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