Bath Rugby came away from a snowy and windy Salford City Stadium tonight with the losing bonus point having been edged out by Sale Sharks in an attritional battle, 14-13.
Both sides spent much of the opening stages not only assessing the weather, but also each other. Playing into the driving wind and snow for the first half, Bath soaked up the pressure put on them by the home side early on, and neither side got much further than the opposition 22 before possession was turned over.
With both teams electing to mainly keep the ball in hand, it was 20 minutes before the first points were scored, Nick Macleod putting the home side up. Nick Abendanon's chip through richoted off a Sale defender, and from there the home side made the break. Bath infringed in the defensive line and it was a simple three points for the fly-half. 3-0.
Ten minutes later and Tom Heathcote had the chance to level the scores, but his attempt drifted just wide.
He made amends two minutes later though, with a superb kick from 40 metres out sailing over the cross-bar. 3-3.
Two quick penalties from Macleod took the home side back in front, and Bath went in at half-time six points down.
Half-time – Sale Sharks 9 – Bath Rugby 3.
Despite the six point difference, the game had been pretty evenly balanced, and it stayed that way from the beginning of the second-half.
It wasn't until the 55th minute that a try-line was breached, and it was the visitors who did the breaching.
It started with a penalty at the scrum to Bath. Heathcote kicked for the lineout and once Ross Batty had found Ben Skirving, the pack set up a huge driving maul. Quick ball from Michael Claassens sent Matt Banahan crashing through the centres, with Horacio Agulla being on the receiving end of the centre's offload. The Argentinian had to use all his strength and power to force his way over the line for the score. Heathcote sent the conversion over, and Bath had the lead for the first time in the game. 9-10.
A mistake from the visitors at the re-start led to a penalty chance for Macleod, but the fly-half saw his attempt go left of the post.
However, Sale ramped up the pressure. A series of lineout drives saw them spread the ball wide through the hands, and stretch the defence enough for Tom Brady to go over in the corner. Macleod missed the conversion, but the home side had regained the lead with eight minutes to go.
It was a lead they were reluctant to let go, but Bath didn't give up the fight. With four minutes to go, Heathcote nailed another superb penalty following another good scrum from the pack, meaning there was just one point in it. The home side battened down the hatches though, and it was to be the last score of the game, sending Bath home with just the losing bonus point.
Final score – Sale Sharks 14 – Bath Rugby 13.