Bristol's hopes of progress in the Heineken Cup were dealt a blow as Stade Français picked up a hard-fought victory in a Pool 3 battle of attrition in Paris last night.
Richard Hill's men slipped to third in the group, and must now defeat leaders Cardiff next Sunday to have any hope of qualifying, as Stade found a greater cutting edge in the second half to emerge victorious.
Bristol, who failed to earn an all-important bonus point, were never completely out of the running and were just 9-6 behind with 30 minutes left.
However, tries by Ignacio Corleto and Julien Arias in the right corner in the space of 13 minutes did for the visitors. Jason Strange booted two penalties and Tom Arscott went over for Bristol's only try, in the 57th minute, but Stade – for whom David Skrela kicked three penalties – were deserved winners.
The French champions must beat Harlequins next Sunday and hope Bristol defeat Cardiff at home if they are to seal top spot.
A howling wind greeted Strange's kick-off, and it was clear from the outset it was not going to be pretty stuff. When prop James Hobson failed to roll away from a ruck, Skrela drilled home a penalty to put Stade 3-0 up. Rodrigo Roncero and Hobson were both then given 10 minutes in the cooler following a bout of fisticuffs and, from the resulting penalty, Strange made no mistake to level matters.
Bristol were managing to stifle the hosts, with their back row of Andrew Blowers, Joe El-Abd and Matt Salter ubiquitous. However, in the 24th minute the visitors' defence was breached by the rampaging Remy Martin. That Martin found himself tackled by Luke Arscott inches short of the line said as much about the flanker's inadequacy as a finisher as the Bristol full-back's superb cover defence.
Skrela added a second penalty in the 28th minute to give the Frenchmen a 6-3 lead, and another on the stroke of half-time to further their advantage.
After the break Strange nailed his second penalty of the night, but Stade were growing in confidence and scored the game's first try on 52 minutes. Then Corleto crashed home but again Bristol hit back immediately when Brian O'Riordan fed Rob Higgitt, who in turn freed Arscott for a score in the corner.
The game was beginning to open up and Stade made the most of that by going over again, Arias finishing off the scoring with a well-worked try on 70 minutes.
Stade Français: Corleto; Arias, Glas, Bastareaud, Dominici; Skrela, Albouy; Attoub, Szarzewski, Roncero, Marchois, Pape, Rabadan, Martin, Parisse. Replacements: Beauxis for Corleto (70), Fillol for Albouy (47), Montanella for Attoub (65), du Plooy for Marchois (78).
Bristol: L Arscott; T Arscott, Higgitt, Brew, Lemi; Strange, O'Riordan; Crompton, Regan, Hobson, Winters, Hohneck, Salter, El Abd, Blowers. Replacements: Hill for Strange (70), Clarke for Crompton (65), Linklater for Regan (19), To'oala for El Abd (50).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
* In Pool Two Ulster battled back from a 17-6 half-time deficit to defeat Bourgoin 25-24 in a thrilling match at Ravenhill.
* The lock Lionel Nallet will be the next France captain, coach Marc Lievremont confirmed last night.Reuse content