Dupuy puts boot into Bath's European hopes

Bath 27 Stade Francais 29
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The Independent Online

Bath thought they had poured five-star on the smouldering embers of their Heineken Cup campaign, but Julien Dupuy extinguished the flames completely with seven penalties.

It was Dupuy who wrecked Bath's European dream last season, and the Stade Français scrum-half was ruthless with the boot, punishing a succession of stupid penalties, the last struck with ice-cool nerve in the dying seconds to secure victory. Bath led 21-9 one minute from half-time but frittered it all away. And it was Englishman Ollie Phillips who demolished the last strands of Bath confidence with a super breakaway try four minutes from time to pull Stade within a point.

Phillips admitted: "I should have taken the ball further around behind the posts to make the conversion less difficult for Julien. He missed, but fortunately landed the last-minute penalty to secure victory. I'll take a lot of flak and in two languages because I share a flat in Paris with James Haskell."

That's two defeats from two in Pool Four, leaving Bath rock bottom of the group. Stade made their intentions clear from the start, pressing Bath into errors and taking a sixth-minute lead with an outrageous 50-yard drop goal by fly-half Lionel Beauxis.

Bath reacted as if slapped in the face by a glove. David Flatman sparked a succession of thwarted attacks with a raging barge which required three defenders to halt it before Nicky Little hauled them level with a penalty.

Stade regained the edge with a Dupuy goal, but were rocked backwards when Little applied the finishing flourish to a sweeping attack that involved Michael Claassens, Jonny Fa'amatuainu and a clever take, break and offload by Shontayne Hape.

Before Stade could regroup, Bath struck again, and it was the increasingly influential Matt Banahan who rifled out a splendid flat pass to Matt Carraro on the right wing.

The big Australian centre smashed through the cover, most notably Hugo Southwell, before being grounded inches from the line. But if down, Carraro wasn't out. He stretched his right arm immediately, and placed the ball over the goalline, Little converting.

Dupuy and Little exchanged penalties, but the eyes of a capacity crowd were repeatedly drawn to the tall figure of Banahan, whose threatening ball-carrying sent alarm bells jangling throughout the Stade defence.

Panic led to penalties, and another was punished by Little. Yet Stade kept their heads. Dupuy kicked his third goal a minute before half-time, reward for a period of renewed attack, and switched ends very much in touch.

The pattern continued after the break, Little and Dupuy exchanging goals again. Referee Clancy blundered when he gave Banahan a yellow card in the 53rd minute for a big but perfectly legitimate tackle on Mirco Bergamasco. It was all the more galling for Bath when Dupuy rammed over the resultant penalty.

The jitters became the shakes as the France scrum-half arrowed over his sixth penalty. But when England flanker Haskell conceded a daft one in front of his posts, Little took the three points before Stade's grand finale.

Bath head coach Steve Meehan refused to criticise his players despite their latest failure to build on a strong lead. "The team gave it their all," he said. "Our problem is not controlling possession or making the correct decisions when things tighten up. We had possession with three minutes to go and needed to take the right decisions that would allow us to see the game out. It's something we will learn."

Bath: Tries Little, Carraro; Conversions Little; Penalties Little 5. Stade Francais: Try Phillips; Penalties Dupuy 7; Drop goal Beauxis.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little, M Claassens (capt); D Flatman, P Dixon (R Hawkins, 61), D Bell (D Wilson, 61), S Hooper, D Grewcock, J Faamatuainu (C Cracknell, 70), J Salvi, B Skirving.

Stade Francais: H Southwell; J Arias (O Phillips, 51), G Bousses, G Messina (Mi Bergamasco, 31), M Gasnier; L Beauxis, J Dupuy; R Roncero (capt), D Szarzewski, D Attoub, T Palmer, P Pape, J Haskell, P Rabadan (B Kayser, 24), S Parisse.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).