Arias helps off-key Stade sink Bath
Stade Francais 15 Bath 13: Meehan criticises 'cabbage patch' pitch in Paris after seeing injury-hit opponents end his team's European campaign
Sunday 17 January 2010
Bath are in the midst of an escape act away from the foot of the Guinness Premiership table, but they have found the Heineken Cup a different matter altogether. With no European rugby to focus on now – this defeat knocked them out of the Heineken Cup and cost them any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup – Bath's hopes of completing their Premiership recovery may increase. That may be something of a silver lining, but try telling the Bath players that.
Here, the men from the West Country toiled in vain on an embarrassment of a pitch which Steve Meehan, the Bath director of rugby who once coached at Stade, called a "cabbage patch". His team came away from gloomy Paris with nothing but a useless bonus point and their pride, which was just about intact.
Julien Arias, Stade's pacy winger, rose above a sea of mediocrity to score two well-taken tries in 11 first-half minutes that put Stade 15-3 ahead and ultimately killed off Bath's challenge. That the visitors pulled back to within two points, through Michael Claassens' 36th-minute try and Nicky Little's kicking, was testament to the spirit Meehan has been able to foster in these troubled times for the club. But they did not come close to Stade's line – indeed, make that their 22 – in the second half as the Parisian all-stars, who did not seem so aristocratic yesterday in the driving wind and rain, comfortably held on to their advantage.
"It came down to the conditions and from time to time our inaccuracies, but I was proud of the guys out there," Meehan said. "That pitch didn't impress too many of our guys – Stade Français must improve that."
Meehan's gripe was legitimate, with free-flowing rugby at a premium on a thoroughly miserable day in the French capital. Given the conditions, it was a baptism of fire for Hugo Southwell, who started at scrum-half for Stade. The Scotland player is a full-back by trade but with the Parisians without four No 9s due to injury and suspension, he was being used in the role as an emergency.
While his sniping around the rucks was sprightly throughout, Southwell struggled at times with his passing, handling and box-kicking. On this evidence, it is unlikely that Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, will be changing his plans in that department ahead of the Six Nations' Championship.
Still, Stade dominated the first half, their lumbering pack controlling the game up front. It meant their backs were always on the front foot, and after Lionel Beauxis and Little had exchanged early penalties, Stade pulled clear. Arias's first try came when he collected a chip forward by Mathieu Bastareaud, the bullocking France centre, before side-stepping Joe Maddock, the Bath full-back, and going over the line. The wing followed that up in the 34th minute with more of a poacher's finish, scoring from close range in the right-hand corner after good work by the England back-rower James Haskell, Southwell and the hooker Dimitri Szarzewski.
Bath were given a reprieve minutes before half-time in the unlikeliest of circumstances. The normally unflappable Beauxis for some reason chose to fly-hack away a low pass from Southwell. The fly-half could only kick at thin air and Claassens could not believe his luck as he leapt on the loose ball for a try that was converted by Little.
The Fijian fly-half then kicked a penalty two minutes after the break and Bath closed to 15-13. But that was where the scoring ended, with the pitch cutting up to such an extent that Shontayne Hape, the Bath centre, said he felt as if the mud was up to his knees.
Hape, who has been called up by England for the Six Nations, put in a decent shift but did not see much of the ball in midfield. He may have to get used to that once he links up with Martin Johnson's squad. This was no game to show off his running skills.
Meehan, who will have to start getting used to fielding questions about his New Zealand-born centre, is confident the player can adapt to the demands of international rugby.
"They have him in the squad – whether he gets a start or comes off the bench, we'll have to see. Given what I've seen, it's worth giving him a go," Meehan said.
Stade stay top of the the pool and need only avoid defeat in Edinburgh next weekend to progress.
Stade Français L Beauxis; J Arias, M Bastareaud, G Messina, M Bergamasco; I Mieres, H Southwell; R Roncero (capt), D Szarzewski (B Kayser, 52), S Marconnet, T Palmer, P Pape, J Haskell, JM Leguizamon, P Rabadan (A Burban, 40).
Bath J Maddock; M Stephenson (J Cuthbert, 55), M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little (R Davis, 62), M Claassens (capt); D Flatman (D Barnes, 75), L Mears (P Dixon, 26-40; 74), D Wilson (A Jarvis, 75), D Grewcock, P Short (S Hooper, 62), A Beattie (B Skirving, 73), L Watson, J Salvi.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).
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