Bath Rugby bounce back with a bonus point

Bath Rugby produced the perfect response to their first defeat of the season as they bounced back with a bonus-point victory over Sale Sharks at the Recreation Ground, 31-16.

First-half tries from Duncan Bell, Shontayne Hape and Matt Carraro gave the home side a commanding lead - but they had to wait until the 78th minute to bank the bonus point when Ben Williams went over in the corner.

By the time Sale's Wame Lewaravu finally crossed for the visitors' first try in second-half injury-time, Bath's five-point victory was already assured.

The win was the ideal reaction to the previous week's 31-10 defeat against Northampton at Franklin's Gardens - and head coach Steve Meehan acknowledged the effort of his players.

"Right from the finish of last Friday night's match, the players were adamant that they needed to respond," said Meehan. "On Monday, we were pretty straightforward with the review - it didn't take very long.

"It wasn't as if we stood there and screamed, shouted and waved our arms around - we were very direct and precise with what we had to say. The players accepted that very well and got on with their jobs - and that has been the response. It's a terrific Saturday for us."

On a beautiful afternoon down by the banks of the Avon, Bath started well and were celebrating their first try only 12 minutes into the match. Tom Biggs initially turned defence into attack for Bath, who then earned a penalty close to the Sale line and opted for a scrum.

From the base, Michael Claassens linked with Sam Vesty, who was stopped just short, before Luke Watson arrived in support and missed out Pieter Dixon and David Barnes with a perfectly-timed pass to set up prop Bell, who went over for the sixth Premiership try of his Bath career.

Olly Barkley's conversion increased the lead to 7-0, before the inside centre knocked over a penalty to make it 10-0 after Sale had strayed offside. Barkley then missed a penalty, before Paul Williams cut Bath's lead to seven points and then to four with two penalties of his own.

But Bath reasserted their authority - and effectively sealed the victory - with two tries in the 13 minutes before half-time.

First Hape picked a smart line and cantered through a massive hole in the Sale defence after receiving Barkley's pass to score from 30 metres, with Barkley's conversion making it 17-6.

Then, with Sale expecting an advantage following a Bath knock-on, Sharks winger Mark Cueto inadvertently threw the ball straight to the eager Carraro, who turned around and checked for a referee's whistle, before racing away to score when it did not arrive. Again Barkley converted to give his side a 24-6 half-time lead.

The Bath supporters among an 11,618 crowd at the Rec may have expected their side to wrap up the bonus point with a quick fourth try - but resilient Sale had other ideas. They defended resolutely at the start of the second period, denying and frustrating the hosts, who knew a bonus-point win would take them - briefly at least - to the top of the Aviva Premiership table.

Bath tried to find a route to the Sale line, but it was the visiting team who struck next, Williams scoring a third penalty of the afternoon to cut the Bath lead to 15 points.

Bath then enjoyed a lengthy stay in the Sale 22, winning a series of close-range scrums and testing the opposition defence, but the Sharks kept out wave after wave of attack and it appeared that the extra point may evade the hosts.

But their patience and determination finally paid off with two minutes left on the clock when - after a Sale forward pass saw the momentum swing back in Bath's favour - they were able to launch one final attack.

From the initial scrum, they spread the ball wide with Biggs going close, before switching play to the opposite wing, where Nick Abendanon and Barkley combined to send promising 21-year-old centre Williams over for his maiden first-team try at the Rec.

Barkley kept his composure to send over the touchline conversion to extend his team's advantage to 31-9 with little more than a minute to play.

But Sale grabbed a late try when Lewaravu powered over deep into injury-time after Williams had been yellow-carded for killing the ball, with Paul Williams' conversion ensuring the match finished with Bath 31-16 victors.

And Meehan, while acknowledging that his team can still improve, saw signs of encouragement in both attack and defence.

"We've got to reward the guys, because, despite the amount of pressure Sale put us under over the course of the game, it took them until the 82nd or 83rd minute to cross," said Meehan. "And in attack there were times when we put a great deal of pace on the ball - and that's when we know we are starting to get somewhere."

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