6 years ago
28 March 2008, 12:12pm
As the rain poured down for hours, the match was questionable. However, the tireless work of the grounds men with rollers in hand ensured that the game would go ahead, but the conditions were to act against Bath and although Bath Rugby remain at the top of the Guinness Premiership table, they will be travelling back to the Rec tonight with a 22-6 defeat.
After a scrum down at the start, Charlie Hodgson wasted no time in scoring a penalty for Sale and planting a kick straight between the uprights. Fighting against the elements and playing inside their own 22, Bath were handed the ball for a scrum after a forward pass from Sale, but after Seveali'i pushed through the Bath defence, a further offence meant Hodgson's boot was back in action at eight minutes for a further three points.
Shaun Berne tried to win three points for Bath moments later with a penalty kick, but as the ball fell just short of the posts, the score remained 6 - 0 after 10 minutes. However, four minutes on and Berne had the chance to reclaim those points and he shot the ball directly between the posts for the penalty.
With the white Bath shirts rapidly turning brown, Andrew Higgins made a rapid break within Sale's 22 to the midfield, where he made a short, swift pass to Michael Lipman who instantly offloaded to Nick Abendanon, but the muddy ball slipped from his hands. Moments later, having received what looked like an elbow to his face, fly half Shaun Berne was replaced by Olly Barkley, as David Flatman also came on for Duncan Bell.
The mud failed to dissipate Sale's efforts as a long pass to Oriol Ripol offered the Spaniard the space to offload to the formidable Sebastien Chabal. But after a strong tackle from Michael Claassens, Bath broke for a promising counter and the scrum half hurled the ball to Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu before passing the ball wide to Tom Cheeseman on the wing, and back inside to club captain Steve Borthwick in midfield. Bath did not waste time to drive inside Sale's 22, but the ball was turned over and the home side cleared the danger.
Under pressure, Bath were compelled to make up the lost ground and although they pressed for another six minutes, Hodgson, demonstrating the skill of his boot once again, sent the ball to the 22. A strong drive by the Sharks' forwards deep inside the visitor's territory gave their fly half the opening he needed and, on the 40th minute Hodgson made a successful drop goal in front of the sticks. Much to the travelling fans dismay, the three points was notched up with a further five, two minutes later as Oriol Ripol made a dive in the top left hand corner over the white line. Hodgson's conversion took the half-time score to 16 -3 to Sale.
Bath came back from the break more aggressive and determined and immediately making a strong drive past the 22 metre line into Sale's territory and putting the Cheshire side under considerable pressure. Barkley made a statement of intent after just eight minutes as he was back in kicking action for a successful three-point penalty kick, but as Hodgson mirrored Barkley's action three minutes later, Sale moved up to a 13-point lead.
The Shark attack didn't stop there, and Bath took a further blow as Borthwick was replaced by Martin Purdy after 57 minutes. The home team went down for a scrum feet away from the try line, but refusing to allow Sale to cross over for five points, Barkley cleared to the halfway line and out of their danger zone. The respite was short-lived for Bath though as Hodgson put the hosts 22-6 up.
With eight minutes left on the clock, Bath forced their way to within metres of the posts and after Sale were penalised for having hands in the ruck, Bath opted for a scrum in an attempt to put some much-needed points on the scoreboard. A tense minute followed as Barkley made a long pass to Abendanon on the wing, who passed to Tom Cheeseman who agonisingly fell inches away from the line unable to ground the ball for the try.
The west country side refused to let up without a fight and although they prevented the Sharks from putting any more points on the board, their hard efforts were not enough to claw them back from defeat. The final whistle went as the ball was cleared from feet away from Sale's try line with the hosts winning 22-6 to step back into the top four of the table and Bath still hanging on ontop.
By Kate Oram
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