George Ford missed a penalty with the last kick of the game as Bath suffered a 28-25 defeat to Stade Francais in a dramatic European Challenge Cup semi-final in Paris.
At 18-6 down, Bath staged a remarkable second-half comeback as tries from Semesa Rokoduguni, Robbie Fruean and Elliott Stooke put them back into the lead. But – in a remarkable final quarter – the game swung back and forth as Hugh Pyle’s try and a conversion and drop goal from Jules Plisson put Stade ahead. There was still time for Bath to try to send the game into extra-time, but Ford missed from the tee in time added on to leave Stade to celebrate reaching the final.
On a glorious sunny day in the French capital, Plisson and Ford exchanged early penalties before the Parisians’ impressive start saw them move ahead. Hugo Bonneval made the most of a huge hole in the Bath defence, sprinted through the gap, and found Geoffrey Doumayrou outside him who crossed in the corner.
Plisson missed the conversion, but was then successful with a long-range penalty and at 11-3, Todd Blackadder’s men were up against it. Stade’s power game was giving them the upper hand, with their scrum impressive and Jonathan Danty a threat at centre.
The pace of the game was relentless, the hot conditions having a big impact on both sets of players. Bath then had their best chance of the half, Ford putting Kane Palma-Newport into space. The prop’s pass found Ben Tapuai, but as he reached for the line, the ball was knocked from his grasp. Ford’s penalty soon after was some consolation, but the lack of structure to the game suited Stade down to the ground and Bonneval was unluckily judged to have been held up over the line after a sensational Will Genia break.
Stade moved further clear at the start of the second period. Yet another powerful carry from Danty took Stade close to the Bath line, and Genia’s short pass found Plisson, who crossed by the right-hand post. The French fly-half converted. It left Bath up against it, but they fought back strongly.
They finally kept the ball for long periods and were rewarded when Rokoduguni brushed off Bonneval to score a wonderful individual effort. Ford converted and it soon got even better as Blackadder’s men got on the comeback trail.
Just five minutes after Rokoduguni’s effort, replacements Fruean and Stooke came up with further scores and all of a sudden it looked like the visitors would come out on top. That was not the end of the drama though as Stade went the length of the field, Djibril Camara linking with lock Pyle to somehow make it to the line from 50 metres out.
Plisson converted and then slotted a nerveless drop goal to make it 28-25, but Bath still had one more chance. They secured a penalty, but Ford could not find the target. The result means the French side, who have only lost once at home all season, will face Gloucester in the final at BT Murrayfield on May 12.