Bath Rugby came within a minute of recording their first away win in the Guinness Premiership on Friday night against Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park.
But this was Jason Robinson's last game, and he was not to be denied the full glory of the occasion. With the final play of the game, the full-back and club captain, who had not scored in the league all season, scored a try to clinch victory 25-22, dashing over the line on the left-hand side of the field in characteristic fashion after a scrum on the other flank.
Bath had had a great deal of possession in the opening minutes, and a grubber by Shaun Berne took his team within range. Sale won a penalty at the lineout and with it the chance to clear, but they missed touch and on the counter-attack, Michael Stephenson charged back towards halfway. Nick Abendanon took the ball on further with a superb line, but his pass to the left wing didn't go to hand.
Another exciting attack followed, when Jonny Faamatuainu turned Sale over at the ruck. Michael Lipman got as far as the 22, and passed to Olly Barkley, who hit the line at pace. Stephenson was with him on the right wing, but had to step back inside and again the tacklers were equal to the task.
But with thirteen minutes gone, and having turned a Sale scrum in their 22, Bath were rewarded with a penalty for hands in the ruck and from the left-hand side, Barkley kicked three points.
Sale struck straight back. Sebastien Chabal fielded Berne's kick, and though Berne tackled him well, the Frenchman offloaded to Chris Mayor, and he to Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who scored. Lee Thomas's conversion extended the Sharks' lead. Midway through the half, Barkley made an ambitious attempt to close the gap with a penalty kick from over halfway, and though it had the legs, the direction was awry.
If Jason Robinson was the main story, an important sub-plot was taking place in the scrum, and Bath endured several difficult moments five metres from their line, even with the put-in their own. Excellent foraging work by David Barnes forced a turnover from which Bath raided Sale's half again, but in the 32nd minute, the Sharks were awarded a penalty at the breakdown which Thomas kicked.
Within five minutes, further indiscipline saw the fly-half lining up - and converting - another penalty. But when Sale conceded a free kick at the lineout, and then another for not retreating, Barkley clawed back three points, thanks to direct running by Lipman, which forced a penalty.
Into injury time at the end of the first half, Bath were awarded a scrum after a fumble by Sale. Their error was compounded when they were penalised at the set-piece, and Barkley punished them to close the gap to four points at the break.
When play resumed, as in the first half, Bath enjoyed plenty of the ball in the opening minutes, and made steady progress towards the line. A grubber by Barkley to the in-goal area was meant for Tom Cheeseman, but the wing was pushed off the ball and Bath awarded a penalty. Play, though, was delayed for several minutes, as Lipman needed attention for a neck injury. The flanker was taken off on a stretcher as a precaution.
When play resumed, Berne kicked for touch, after a patient build-up, Nick Walshe scored from close range, and Barkley's conversion put Bath three points up. Perhaps no-one was more surprised than Barnes himself when the dependable prop ran a good thirty or forty yards to score a try, with two men on his heels, after Sale were turned over and Walshe had made the telling break.
Barkley converted to put Bath ten points up, a lead they maintained when Thomas missed a penalty attempt. Soon after, the Sharks won another which Thomas kicked to touch. The attack was repelled, and though Bath conceded another penalty, Bath stole the lineout and cleared. It was momentary relief, though, and defending again, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu paid the price for the run of penalties by being shown a yellow card.
More penalties kept up the pressure, and despite valiant defending, Bath were worn down at last, when Robinson delivered the scoring pass to Premiership debutant Selorm Kuadey on the right wing. Thomas converted.
The extent and number of stoppages meant there was plenty of time left. Barkley had the chance to give Bath a little more breathing space with a penalty for failing to roll away, but his attempt rebounded off the posts.
Then, the fairy-tale moment for Robinson. It was hard to begrudge it him, but Steve Meehan was naturally very disappointed: "It's not the first time we've seen a fairytale," the Head Coach said. "That's life. We didn't do ourselves any favours out there. In the second half, we had opportunities to put that game to bed, but the number of penalties that came against us was extraordinary."
15: Penalty Barkley, 0-3
16: Try Fernandez Lobbe, Conversion 7-3
32: Pen Thomas, 10-3
37: Pen Thomas, 13-3
40+1: Pen Barkley, 13-6
40+6: Pen Barkley, 13-9
53: Try Walshe, Con Barkley, 13-16
61: Try Barnes, Con Barkley, 13-23
76: Try Kuadey, Con Thomas, 20-23
80+17: Try Robinson, 25-23
BATH RUGBY: 15. N Abendanon (Fuimaono-Sapolu, 35; sin-bin: 71-80+4) 14. M Stephenson 13. C Walker 12. O Barkley 11. T Cheeseman 10. S Berne 9. N Walshe (Williams, 80+5) 1. D Barnes 2. L Mears (Dixon, 80) 3. M Stevens 4. S Borthwick (captain) 5. D Grewcock (Louw, 80+8) 6. A Beattie 7. M Lipman (Scaysbrook, 44) 8. J Faamatuainu (Short, 58)
Replacements: 16. P Dixon 17. A Jarvis 18. H Louw 19. P Short 20. J Scaysbrook 21. A Williams 22. E Fuimaono-Sapolu
SALE SHARKS: 15. J Robinson (captain) 14. C Mayor (Wigglesworth, 40+1; 63) 13. E Seveali'i 12. C Bell 11. S Kuadey 10. L Thomas 9. B Foden 1. E Roberts (Turner, 32) 2. S Bruno (Titterrell, 80) 3. B Stewart 4. C Jones 5. D Schofield 6. J M Fernandez Lobbe 7. M Lund 8. S Chabal (Day, 80+8)
Replacements: 16. A Titterrell 17. S Turner 18. S Cox 19. C Day 20. R Wigglesworth 21. R Jones 22. M Taylor
Referee: W Barnes