After staging a second-half comeback, Bath Rugby were denied victory by a last-gasp Jules Plisson drop goal, as Stade Francais clinched a place in the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final with a 28-25 win at Stade Jean-Bouin.
It was the home side who went in front on the scoreboard after five minutes through the boot of French international Plisson. Three minutes later, Bath were close to taking the lead, but for some desperate defending from the French side. Jonathan Joseph spun his way through the Stade defence, but was agonisingly held up just short of the try line. However, it wasn’t a lost cause as play went back for an earlier penalty, which George Ford converted from in front of the posts. 3-3
In an eventful opening quarter, Stade were the first over the whitewash through Geoffrey Doumayrou. The centre finished off a flowing move that saw Hugo Bonneval find a gap in the Bath defence before releasing his teammate to add a five-point score. 8-3
Bath nearly had a try of their own after 27 minutes, but, like with the earlier Joseph effort, were stopped in their tracks by some frantic French defence. A powerful surge from Kane Palma-Newport saw the prop offload to Ben Tapuai, but in reaching for the try line the ball was dislodged from the centre’s grasp.
Plisson and Ford traded kicks to make the score 11-6 going into the last seven minutes of the half and the Top 14 side thought they had added a second try through Bonneval, after the fullback crossed the line following a break from their influential scrum-half Will Genia. However, a superb intervention from winger Matt Banahan prevented the Frenchman from grounding the ball.
Half-time score: Stade Francais 11-6 Bath Rugby
The home team were successful in extending their advantage seven minutes into the second-half, with Genia at the heart of the move once again. The Australian delayed his pass to send Plisson under the posts and put Stade firmly in the driving seat. 18-6
With 20 minutes to play, Bath were fighting their way back into the game, and gave themselves a lifeline with another fine score from talisman Semesa Rokoduguni. Bonneval was no match for the win as he brushed off the challenge with ease to bring Bath back into contention. Ford added the extra two points to take Bath to within five. 18-13
A frenetic closing to the match was in store, as the Blue, Black and White continued to trouble the Stade defence. They were duly rewarded when replacement Robbie Fruean bulldozed his way through in the corner to put Bath level with 13 minutes to play. 18-18
It continued to get better with Elliott Stooke making it three tries in eight minutes. After good work from Fruean, the ball was recycled infield to Stooke, who found a gap to score. Ford converted, and the score put Bath in the ascendancy with just a few minutes to play. 18-25
It was another second rower, who gave Stade a route back into the game. With three minutes to play, Djibril Camara broke free down the left wing to release Hugh Pyle and the lock used every ounce of energy to run in the try from 50m out. 25-25
With just 20 seconds left on the clock, Plisson came to Stade’s rescue, as the fly-half sent a drop goal straight through the posts to take the lead once more. The game wasn’t over as Bath claimed the re-start and were awarded a penalty 10m in from the left touchline. With time up on the clock, there was no time for the lineout and Ford signalled for the posts, looking to take the game to extra-time. However, his attempt drifted just across the face of the posts, and Stade put the ball dead to finish the game.
Final score – Stade Francais 28-25 Bath Rugby