Bath Rugby extended their run of wins at the Rec yesterday - and made the Sale Sharks away record even worse - with a closely fought battle that resulted in a nail-biting 21 - 19 finish.
The rain may not have eased until minutes before kick off, but spirits were high. Within the first five minutes, Hooker, Pieter Dixon grounded the ball over the visitors try line, following Shaun Berne's kick into touch at the top corner. A conversion by Berne meant the scoreboard flipped from zero to seven by the sixth minute.
Sale were less successful in the opening minutes, losing the lineout on the 10 metre line, giving the ball to Number 8, Daniel Browne, who swiftly passed to the scrum half Michael Claassens. Sale seized the opportunity and with an interception the ball was lambasted back towards Bath territory and with Higgins caught offside, Sale were offered the chance to put some points on the scoreboard themselves. At the 11th minute, Charlie Hodgson was awarded a penalty kick, but failed to score.
Three minutes later, moving the ball at pace, Shaun Berne made a long pass to an awaiting Matt Banahan, who slammed over the line for Bath's second and final try of the match.
Sale's Chris Mayor was quick to respond to 12-point lead by Bath, by bursting down the wing. Unfortunately for Mayor, Michael Stephenson, back from injury, was ready and waiting and halted his run, taking him down. Minutes later Hodgson added some easy points in front of the post by successfully landing a penalty kick. A penalty at the other end of the pitch for Bath followed in quick succession, but Shaun Berne hit the post and Bath failed to notch-up any more points until three minutes before the half-time whistle.
After a scrum by Bath's try line, which saw Beattie burst out of the back to defend, some swift passing of the ball sent it to Hodgson who executed a drop goal which was followed by a try at 25 minutes by Oriol Ripol. Bath secured the lead just before the break, thanks to a penalty kick by Shaun Berne, leaving the score at 15 - 13 at half-time.
Within nine minutes of the second half, Hodgson had put Sale in the lead with two successful penalty kicks, but it wasn't long before the gap had been narrowed to within one-point, as Shaun Berne nailed a further penalty at 57 minutes.
It remained tight for the rest of the match. With Michael Claassens and Danny Grewcock organising the midfield play, they ensured that Sale were prevented from running away with any further points.
As the atmosphere in the stadium became heightened and the crowds started to roar, Sale tried to turn the game around. After winning the lineout and driving up the field, the ball was passed to Hodgson whose failed drop goal sent the ball dribbling up the pitch.
Minutes before the final whistle, with the fans sat on the edge of their seats, possession of the ball remained in the Bath's territory. As the clock ticked into stoppage time, Charlie Hodgson made one last ditch attempt to secure a victory, but as the drop goal went wide, Bath's lead was not relinquished and the score remained at a close 21 - 19 to Bath.
15. Michael Stephenson 14. Matt Banahan 13. Andy Higgins 12. Tom Cheeseman 11. Ian Davey 10. Shaun Berne (c) 9. Michael Claassens 1. David Barnes 2. Pieter Dixon 3. Aaron Jarvis 4. Peter Short 5. Danny Grewcock 6. Andy Beattie 7. James Scaysbrook 8. Daniel Browne
16. Rob Hawkins 17. Lorne Ward 18. Martin Purdy 19. Jonny Faamatuainu 20. Chris Goodman 21. Nick Walshe 22. Jack Cuthbert
15. Ben Foden 14. Chris Mayor 13. Chris Bell 12. Lee Thomas 11. Oriol Ripol 10. Charlie Hodgson 9. Richard Wigglesworth 1. Lionel Faure 2. Neil Briggs 3. Stuart Turner 4. Dean Schofield (c) 5. Sean Cox 6. Chris Jones 7. David Tait 8. Nathan Bonner-Evans
16. Marc Jones 17. Ben Evans 18. Chris Day 19. Magnus Lund 20. Sililo Martens 21. Fessia Genaro 22. Steve Hanley
5. Try P Dixon, Conversion S Berne
15. Try M Banahan
37. Penalty Berne
57. Penalty Berne
81. Penalty Berne
18. Penalty Hodgson
25. Drop Hodgson
28. Try Ripol, Conversion Hodgson
42. Penalty Hodgson
49. Penalty Hodgson