Bath Rugby's 2014-15 Aviva Premiership campaign got off to a nail-biting but victorious start in Salford, as a late Semesa Rokoduguni try sealed the 20-29 win over Sale Sharks.
It was a lightening start for the visitors, as Anthony Watson went in for the side's first try inside a minute of the kick-off. A delicate cross-field kick from George Ford was well taken by the young wing, who then danced along the touchline and broke free of the Sale defence to cross the whitewash. Ford added the conversion for an early lead. 0-7.
It looked as if another try had been scored just minutes later. Stuart Hooper took the ball cleanly at the lineout and some quick service from Peter Stringer found Leroy Houston in space. With some support from Dominic Day, the number eight burst forward and it sppeared he had touched down inside the posts. Referee JP Doyle wasn't so sure, and consulted with the Television Match Official who ruled no try for a knock-on.
An error at the lineout from the home side created the next score for Bath, as Jonathan Joseph jinked his way through the midfield before being brought down with a high tackle, which was spotted by Doyle, and Ford succeeded with the penalty attempt to take the lead to 10 after 25 minutes.
A late challenge by Day on Danny Cipriani led to a yellow card for the lock and three points for the Sale fly-half, his side's first of the game, but it was quickly cancelled out by another three points from Ford. 3-13.
Whilst Bath had the advantage on the scoreboard, a tight game was being played out on the field, and five minutes before half-time Sale capitalised on their man advantage, centre Mark Jennings going over from close range after the home side had pounced on a loose, bobbling ball in Bath's 22. Cipriani added the extras, before the two fly-halves exchanged further penalties ahead of the half-time whistle.
Half-time: Sale Sharks 13 – Bath Rugby 16.
With the game evenly poised, Sale came out all guns blazing, controlling the tempo and possession for the opening ten minutes or so of the second-half. However, the stubborn Bath defence held them out, and instead it was the visitors who scored next - a stunning long range penalty from the half-way line sailing through the posts from the boot of Ford.
Bath were stringing together some good phases of attack, but with 14 minutes to go, Sale took the lead for the first time in the game. A strong forward drive ended with Mark Easter barrelling over under a pile of bodies, and Cipriani's successful conversion added the vital two points. 20-19.
They looked to have sealed the win moments later when Michael Paterson galloped away for another try, but Doyle had spotted a forward pass in the build-up and ruled the score out.
Bath were not to be fazed however, and patiently worked themselves into good areas to attack from. After a number of phases, the ball was spun wide into the hands of Ford, who drew the defence and released Semesa Rokoduguni to power down the right touchline and through the Sale defence to dive over in the corner. Doyle consulted the TMO to be sure and awarded the try, allowing Ford to add a sublime touchline conversion. The 21 year-old fly-half secured the win moments later with another spectacular long range penalty, and whilst Sale tried to get something from the closing moments, the visiting defence stood strong.
Final score: Sale Sharks 20 – Bath Rugby 29.
AJ Bell Stadium
6 September 2014
Referee: JP Doyle
Half Time score: 13-16
- Tries: Jennings (33), Easter (65)
- Conversions: Cipriani (33, 66)
- Penalties: Cipriani (26, 41)
- Tries: Watson (0), Rokoduguni (71)
- Conversions: Ford (1, 72)
- Penalties: Ford (23, 29, 36, 56, 76)