Bath Rugby now travel to Leeds Tykes on Sunday in what is a crucial game and coach Mike Foley knows that a better performance will be required. "The result is extremely disappointing in the context of how we have been playing," he said. "Our execution was poor. We have saved some of our rougher performances for the league and we now need to notch up a few wins in those eleven remaining matches."
There was no festive hang over at the Recreation Ground as both sides played their part in an intense encounter. It was also highly physical. Both packs were intent on knocking pieces out of each other, whilst the scrums really made the ground shudder. Bell and Sheridan's battle was particularly enthralling with Bell putting in a good showing in front of the on looking England coach Andy Robinson.
The game started at a frantic pace with both sides looking to assert themselves. However, despite plenty of attacking endeavour, defences ruled and it was the home side who went into an early 6-3 lead as Olly Barkley continued his good form with the boot forward from the Worcester match.
Whilst the game failed to serve up a try in the opening forty minutes there was certainly no lack of attacking invention. Sale had perhaps the better of the opportunities, but there was really nothing to choose between the two sides. Sale had two brilliant attacking chances from five metre scrums, but twice Bath's defence turned over the ball, whilst Charlie Hodgson missed a relatively straight forward chance from in front of the sticks to put the Sharks on level terms.
The second half saw a lot less unforced errors as both sides played more cohesive rugby. Elvis Seveali'I, on his return to the Rec, broke the deadlock with a try after four minutes after latching onto a pass from Charlie Hodgson to score in front of the Hamptons Stand - a very familiar place for the Samoan international who scored a sensational try there to maintain Bath's Premiership status three years ago. Hodgson's conversion gave the Premiership leaders a handy 10-6 lead.
Bath though upped their game and should have scored in the corner through Michael Stephenson, but the ball was turned over. Playing with much more venom, Bath had opportunities and Olly Barkley slotted over his third penalty of the afternoon when Jason White impeded Danny Grewcock at a lineout inside the Sale twenty-two. However, Hodgson restored the advantage almost immediately when Hodgson kicked his second penalty to give Sale a 13-9 lead.
Bath attacked through the backs and battered through the forwards, but Sale's defence held firm. Sale showed exactly why they are the form side by absorbing all the pressure thrown at them to launch a counter attack that resulted in Magnus Lund scoring a try. Noticing that Bath's defence was out of sorts out wide, Hodgson placed a delicate chip in behind the defence for Mark Cueto to gather. The England international passed to Lund, who had a free run to the line. Hodgson further increased the lead with a penalty shortly after.
15 Michael Stephenson, 14 Joe Maddock (Ryan Davis), 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Olly Barkley (3p), 11 David Bory (Andy Higgins), 10 Chris Malone, 9 Nick Walshe (Andy Williams), 1 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears (Pieter Dixon), 3 Duncan Bell (David Flatman), 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 5 Danny Grewcock, 6 Andy Beattie (Peter Short), 7 James Scaysbrook, 8 Zak Feaunati (Gareth Delve).
Reps: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 David Flatman, 18 Peter Short, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Andy Williams, 21 Ryan Davis, 22 Andy Higgins
Ref: Chris White
1 min: Hodgson pen 0-3
3 mins: Barkley pen: 3-3
7 mins: Barkley pen 6-3
44 mins: Seveali'I try, Hodgson con 6-10
56 mins: Barkley pen 9-10
57 mins: Hodgson pen 9-13
71 mins: Lund try 9-18
74 mins: Hodgson pen 9-21