Whatever befalls England's representatives in the Heineken Cup, the three English clubs in the Amlin Challenge Cup have endured a woeful weekend. Despite home advantage, Gloucester, London Wasps and, yesterday, Bath have been outclassed.
So poor were Bath, Stade Francais could play a quarter of the game with only 14 men yet emerge smelling of roses. The unsavoury spat between the two scrum-halves, Peter Stringer and Jérôme Fillol, when replays suggested the Frenchman spat in his opponent's face and may warrant a disciplinary charge, should not detract from the quality of the Parisian club. However, Stringer had harsh words for Fillol. "There is no place in the game for it," said the former Ireland scrum-half. "That's as low as you can probably go."
Stade now play Perpignan in the semi-final at the Stade Aimé Giral on 26 April while the beaten English trio can only look forward to an internal squabble over the last three weekends of the Aviva Premiership to determine which of them qualifies for next season's Heineken Cup by achieving a top-six placing.
On yesterday's evidence, even Bath's most rabid fan would not argue the club is worthy of an elite European place. Their midfield resources have been destroyed by injury and unavailability and there is a feeling among the Bath faithful that the sooner Stephen Donald, the New Zealand fly-half, leaves for Japan, the better. He overhit two touch finders after a bright start, conceded a penalty in his own 22 to give Stade three points, then gave away an interception try to Waisea Vuidravuwalu.
Not that the French club needed that much help. Vuidravuwalu, the Fijian wing, enjoyed a simple run-in for his first try after Bath were turned over, and was never going to be caught on a 60-metre dash for his second after Geoffrey Doumayrou picked up Donald's errant pass. Since his languid stride also started the move which led to the first of Hugo Bonneval's tries, both scored within the space of two minutes, it could be said that there was a distinct South Seas flavour to Stade's play. "They scored three tries off turnovers. You like to feel you can look after the ball and we didn't do that well enough," Toby Booth, Bath's coach, said. "But I've watched every game this week and it's the physicality the other sides have brought that's made a difference. Stade were enormous and we have to learn to live in that world. The bottom line is that we just weren't good enough."
Bath had the better of the line-out and the penalty count but could construct nothing. Everything they tried turned to dust while everything Stade attempted turned to gold.
Ollie Devoto was short with a 50m penalty; Jules Plisson nudged one over from 46m. Nearly the last act of the game saw Tom Heathcote hit a conversion attempt against both uprights yet still the ball stayed the wrong side; a minute later Jérôme Porical's penalty bounced through off the crossbar.
Only once did Bath look as though they might turn the game into a contest, when they surged towards the Stade line and received a penalty try when Scott Lavalla was judged to have pulled down the maul. Lavalla left for the sin-bin (following in the first-half stud marks of Rabah Slimani for a dangerous tackle on Nick Abendanon) and Donald's conversion brought the scores to 20-10.
But Stade had already shown how dangerous they were when attacking from long distance and Bonneval's second try capped a flowing 60-metre move. Michael Claassens burrowed over from a line-out, only to watch as Plisson casually kicked a 51-metre drop goal, and though Eastmond sent Jack Cuthbert to the corner, it was all too late.
Bath O Devoto; N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 49), H Agulla, K Eastmond, T Biggs; S Donald (T Heathcote, 59), P Stringer (M Claassens, 59); P James (N Catt, 54), R Webber (R Batty, 54), D Wilson (A Perenise, 54), S Hooper (captain), D Day (W Spencer, 65), S Taylor (N Koster, 47), B Skirving, F Louw.
Stade Francais H Bonneval; W Vuidravuwalu, G Doumayrou, P Williams, J Sinzelle (J Arias, 49); J Plisson (J Porical, 74), J Fillol (P Warwick, 54); S Wright (Z Zhvania, 73), A de Malmanche (R Bonfils, 66), R Slimani (sin bin 35-45; J Becasseau, 76), S Lavalla (sin-bin 47-57; A van Zyl, 65), G Mostert, P Rabadan (Bonfils, 40-45; A Burban, 59), S Parisse, D Lyons.
Referee N Owens (Wales).
Tries: Penalty try, Claassens, Cuthbert
Tries: Vuidravuwalu 2, Bonneval 2
Cons: Fillol 2
Pens: Plisson, Fillol, Porical
Drop goal: Plisson