8 years ago
22 December 2006, 12:00am
A drop goal by Chris Malone clinched a superb 18-16 win for Bath over the Guinness Premiership Champions Sale Sharks on Friday night, the best Christmas present for the home crowd at the Rec.
Steve Meehan, confirmed as Head Coach earlier in the week, was extremely happy with the resolve of the team: "I think the lead-up to the drop goal was significant. The way the players applied themselves there illustrated their composure, courage and belief."
After the early exchanges, in which both sides tested each other with high kicks into the foggy night sky, Bath were awarded a penalty when Sale tried to collapse a maul illegally, but Chris Malone's attempt at goal just drifted right. A few minutes later, Malone's opposite number Lee Thomas had an opportunity from almost fifty metres, when Bath were penalised at the scrum, but he too was unsuccessful as the ball fell short.
Play came to an temporary halt after about 13 minutes when Jon Dawson, the new prop from Cambridge University, fell awkwardly in the tackle and had to be helped from the field. Play resumed with a Sale scrum for a knock-on, but as if fired up by their misfortune, Bath shunted their pack and Malone intercepted Sébastien Chabal's pass, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu made further headway behind the Sale defence, and Joe Maddock, with dazzling sidestep, wrong-footed them still more. The result was a penalty to Bath for offside, which this time Malone converted.
Thomas could have attempted to equalise when Bath stood up in the scrum, but he opted to kick for touch, Chabal took the ball at the tail of the lineout, but superb work by the Bath pack prevented the maul from making any progress and when the ball was released to the backs, Daniel Larrechea dropped for goal, but missed.
However, play remained in Bath's half, and when they were penalised for failing to roll away at the tackle, Thomas at last squared the scores.
Andy Beattie claimed the ball from the restart, and when Fuimaono-Sapolu made a good ten metres through the defence, the crowd sensed a score. The home side recycled the ball through several phases but the Sale defence held firm, until they came offside and Malone struck his second penalty of the night.
Half-time was approaching when Bath won a lineout on the Sale ten metre line, and rumbled all the way into the 22. The ball came out to the backs, where Nick Abendanon scrabbled along the ground towards the line. The referee not only penalised Sale at the ensuing ruck, but sent Chabal to the sin-bin, and Malone added three points to Bath's lead.
However, Bath were stung during injury time at the end of the period when a high kick by Larrechea fell into the arms of Chris Bell, who ran under the posts unopposed, and Thomas's conversion gave the Sharks the lead going into the break.
It looked as if Bath might score straight after the resumption of play, after great work from their backs, notably Abendanon, Chev Walker and Fuimaono-Sapolu, but Sale turned them over just metres short, and Chris Mayor sprinted clear down the left touchline. But Abendanon tracked him down and put in a crucial text-book tackle to take the centre into touch and prevent him from a length-of-the-field try.
The Sharks, though, did extend their lead, when Thomas kicked over a penalty from in front of the post that had been given for holding on in the tackle. And the fly-half had no hesitation in stepping up for another kick five minutes later, for an infringement at a lineout in the Bath 22 area.
As Bath kept Sale in their own half, three successive penalties gave Malone the opportunity to reduce the deficit, for although he missed the first when the Sharks strayed offside, he was successful both when they repeated the offence minutes later, and when they used their hands in the ruck.
When Steve Hanley was forced to take Malone's chip into touch, Bath attacked with great vigour for phase after phase, eventually forcing the penalty, but alas, the groans from the Helphire Stand indicated that his attempt had been unsuccessful.
But their groans turned to cheers when, after patient, dogged, controlled pick-and-drive work by the forwards, Malone fired a drop goal through the uprights to restore the Bath lead.
Two minutes remained, and Sale imitated Bath, edging further into their territory as the countdown clock wound down. But they knocked the ball on, leaving Bath elated as the final whistle went.
The joy was only tempered by Dawson's injury, about which Meehan said: "It was unbelievable. He had the ball, ran in, took the tackle, and finished. I wouldn't think he'll take any further part at Bath. It's bizarre. I've never seen anything like it."
But Brad Davis, the defence coach, agreed that the character the whole side showed was heartening: "I thought the players were absolutely outstanding. It was tense, Sale came down here to play and I thought we more than matched them and fully deserved the win."
19: Penalty Malone, 3-0
30: Pen Thomas, 3-3
34: Pen Malone, 6-3
39: Pen Malone, 9-3
40+5: Try Bell, Conversion, 9-10
48: Pen Thomas, 9-13
54: Pen Thomas, 9-16
67: Pen Malone, 12-16
74: Pen Malone, 15-16
80+7: Drop goal Malone, 18-16
BATH: 15. N Abendanon (Barkley, 56) 14. J Maddock 13.C Walker 12. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 11. David Bory 10. C Malone 9. N Walshe 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears 3. J Dawson (Ovens, 17) 4. P Short (Fidler, 54) 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie 7. J Faamatuainu (Scaysbrook, 48) 8. I Feaunati (captain)
Replacements: 16. D Ward 17. L Ovens 18. R Fidler 19. J Scaysbrook 20. M Stephenson 21. O Barkley 22. P Travagli
SALE: 15. D Larrechea (Hanley, 63) 14. J Robinson (captain) 13. C Mayor (Taylor, 67) 12. C Bell 11. B Foden 9. L Thomas 10. S Martens 1. L Faure (Stewart, 80) 2. A Titterrell 3. B Stewart (Evans, 41) 4. C Jones 5.D Schofield 6. N Bonner Evans (Day, 42) 7. J M Fernandez Lobbe 8. S Chabal (sin-bin: 38-48)
Replacements: 16. P Gaona 17. B Evans 18. C Day 19. M Hills 20. D Blair 21. M Taylor 22. S Hanley
Referee: A Rowden
By Hilary Weale
Other results for this match are not available.
Lineups for this match are not available.