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Stade leave Ulster relying on favour from Edinburgh

Ulster will need Edinburgh to do them a massive favour in Murrayfield next Saturday afternoon if they are to reach the Heineken Cup knock-out stages for the first time since 1999.

Ulster did what they had to over their Scottish rivals on Friday night, but Stade Francais retained the advantage in Pool Four with a win over Bath in Paris yesterday.

Bath will have nothing but pride to play for when they host Ulster, also on Saturday afternoon. But the Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin says his side will focus on their job and hope for the best elsewhere. "We must front up there and get a result, we can go across and get that elusive win."

And he will have been encouraged by Edinburgh coach Rob Moffat's parting words at Ravenhill Friday night, as he dismissed any suggestion they had nothing to play for now: "Sorry, that's not the case for us; we have plenty to play for. We want to finish Europe on a high, not a low."

Bath head coach Steve Meehan, meanwhile, insisted he was proud of his side despite seeing them crash out of the competition yesterday. The West Country side slipped to their fourth reverse in five Pool Four matches and are now not only out of the Heineken Cup but also out of contention for a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Bath had fallen 15-3 behind by the 34th minute thanks to a brace of tries by Stade winger Julien Arias but recovered to take the Parisians all the way to the wire.

They could not land the final killer blow but Meehan insisted his players could hold their heads up high.

"It came down to the conditions and, from time to time, our inaccuracies," Meehan said. "But I was happy with the effort and proud of the guys. It was a terrific performance. At one stage, it was 15-3 and we got it back to 15-13. We are desperately disappointed that we couldn't go on further. It was a terrific effort considering we were playing on a cabbage patch."

Indeed Meehan was particularly unhappy with the state of the pitch at the Stade Jean Bouin. The playing surface cut up badly in the second half and conditions were not helped by driving wind and rain that lashed down before and throughout the match.

"The pitch didn't impress too many guys that were out there today," he added. "It's something Stade Francais must look at and improve. People have a go at our patch at The Rec but our field would have stood up to the test better than that."

Michael Claassens' 36th-minute try and Nicky Little's flawless goalkicking -- the Fijian fly-half landed three from three -- kept Bath in the hunt but Stade were a notch above overall and remain top of the group. The French side, who have never won the Heineken Cup, now just need to avoid defeat at Edinburgh next weekend to progress.

Bath, meanwhile, can concentrate their energies on the Guinness Premiership, in which they are third from bottom and in a scrap to avoid relegation,

Scorers -- Stade Francais: J Arias 2 tries; L Beauxis con, pen. Bath: M Claassens try; N Little con, 2 pens

Stade Francais: L Beauxis; J Arias, M Bastareaud, G Messina, M Bergamasco; I Mieres, H Southwell; R Roncero, D Szarzewski (B Kayser 51), S Marconnet; T Palmer, P Pape; J Haskell, R Rabadan (A Burban 41), J M Leguizamon.

Bath: J Maddock; M Stephenson (J Cuthbert 55), M Carraro, S Hape, M Banahan; N Little (R Davis 62), M Claassens; D Flatman, L Mears (P Dixon 25), D Wilson; D Grewcock, P Short (S Hooper 63); A Beattie (B Skirving 73), J Salvi, L Watson.

Referee: A Lewis (IRFU).

Sunday Independent