Bath Rugby scored two tries to record an excellent 27-13 victory over Zurich Premiership leaders Sale Sharks at the Recreation Ground.
With international call-ups and a plethora of injuries hampering selection, Head Coach John Connolly was relieved to have Matt Perry back fit again, whilst James Hudson and Rob Fidler deputised in the second row with James Scaysbrook making his first start of the season in the back row in for the stricken Andy Beattie. On the bench Joe Maddock returned after recovering from a long-standing hamstring problem. Mike Baxter was a late replacement for Martyn Wood on the bench after the scrum half sustained a hamstring pull.
For Sale injuries and call-ups also took their toll. Director of Rugby Philippe St. Andre was forced to bring in prop Seb Bozzi from Orrell, whilst former Gloucester and Wales fly half Bryon Hayward was pulled from retirement to help out old pal and Sale forwards coach Kingsley Jones.
It took the home side just five minutes to open the scoring through the impressive blindside James Scaysbrook. Some sustained pressure inside the Sale twenty-two allowed Brendon Daniel to put the flanker away for a score wide out. Barkley missed the resulting conversion, but Bath Rugby's pressure was relentless as the Bath lineout dominated.
Olly Barkley made amends five minutes later with a routine penalty from in front of the posts to increase the lead and the home side were off to an excellent start. Bath continued to press and Matt Perry and Duncan Bell came close before Sale's defeence, in their desperation, conceded another penalty opportunity to Barkley, who duly collected the three points on offer.
The game settled as Sale began to come back, but in their pursuit of a score, some poor passing in midfield allowed Alex Crockett the chance to latch on to a dropped ball to run in under the posts unopposed for a try that was converted by Barkley.
The manner in which Sale came back into the game from having no possession and very little territory in the game, was quite remarkable. Mike Hercus got the revival under way for the Zurich Premiership leaders with a penalty after Bath had lost concentration from the restart, before a loss in concentration gifted the visitors a try for Magnus Lund. Chris Malone, whose boot had been in fine form, found his kick charged down by the flanker who touched down under the posts unopposed. Hercus converted and Sale continued their comeback when Jonathan Humphreys was sin-binned and Hercus slotted over the resulting penalty to leave nerves jingling in the Bath camp at half time.
Whilst the home side struggled to haul themselves back from Humphreys' sin-binning, some excellent defence kept a Sale side now brimming with confidence at bay. Having survived the sin-bin period, Bath regrouped and began to find their way back into the game. After some excellent play from Olly Barkley, Bath were awarded a penalty and Olly Barkley slotted over the points to increase the lead to eight points. Barkley then extended that lead in the seventy-fourth minute with another penalty after Sale were caught offside in midfield before adding a fifth one a minute later for the same indiscretion.
A plethora of substitutions hampered things in the final minutes as Bath gave debuts to Smith, Loader, Baxter and Lewis. The game failed to ignite once more, but Bath Rugby held out for a gritty victory.
Bath Rugby: 15 Matt Perry (Maddock), 14 Brendon Daniel, 13 Alex Crockett (1t), 12 Olly Barkley (1c, 5p), 11 Frikkie Welsh (Davey), 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe (Baxter), 1 David Barnes, 2 Jonathan Humphreys © (yellow card) (Mears), 3 Duncan Bell (Loader), 4 James Hudson, 5 Rob Fidler (Smith), 6 James Scaysbrook (1t), 7 Michael Lipman (Lewis), 8 Zak Feaunati.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Christian Loader, 18 Dan Smith, 19 Geraint Lewis, 20 Joe Maddock, 21 Mike Baxter, 22 Spencer Davey.
Sale Sharks: 15 Robert Todd, 14 Chris Mayor, 13 Jos Baxendell (Wigglesworth) ©, 12 Chris Rhys-Jones, 11 James Moore, 10 Mike Hercus (1c, 2p), 9 Sililo Martens, 1 Stuart Turner (Bozzi), 2 Johnny Roddam, 3 Barry Stewart, 4 Christian Day, 5 Dean Schofield, 6 Chris Jones (Caillet) 7 Magnus Lund (1t) (yellow card), 8 Sebastein Chabel.