Bath Rugby sealed a dramatic late 20-27 victory against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium tonight, with the winning try scored in the 80th minute.
The first half was an even display, starting with a Joe Ford penalty for the Sharks three minutes after the opening whistle.
Bath did very well to keep Sale out in the first quarter, the home side exerting pressure with the ball in hand. Nonetheless, the visitors kept their nerve in defence – not least out wide, where Tom Biggs showed precision and force in the tackle.
The key moment for Bath came on 24 minutes, after Shark fly-half Ford was deemed to have made his clearance kick from outside his 22. Suddenly the visitors had the invite their forwards had been waiting for, the resulting maul guzzling up yards patiently until Anthony Perenise touched down amidst the mass of bodies in the in-goal area. Tom Heathcote converted to make it 3-7.
Then, near the half-hour mark, Bath were penalised for not entering the ruck through the gate, and Sale kicked to touch. From a near-identical position to Bath's try six minutes earlier, Sale scored from a driving maul, Ford's conversion giving the home side the lead. 10-7.
With two minutes to go in the first half, Bath tapped and went after a free kick in Sharks' 22. The edgy Sale defence were caught offside, and Tom Heathcote's straightforward penalty kick made it 10-10 to end the first half.
Half-time: Sale Sharks 10 – Bath Rugby 10
It was Bath who had the upper hand at the start of the second half, despite the score remaining the same until sixteen minutes in, when Heathcote slotted a neat drop goal to give his team a 10-13 lead.
Despite glimpses of enterprising play from both sides, it wasn't until a moment of magic from Matt Banahan in the 64th minute that the game truly came alive. Receiving the ball in Sale's 22, Banahan made the deftest of chips over the Sharks defence, ghosted through the gap and touch down over the line to score his side's second try. Heathcote's conversion made it 10-20.
The game was far from over, however. With ten minutes to go, replacement Sharks fly-half Nick MacLeod kicked a penalty to bring his team within a converted try of Bath.
Bath almost had the win in the bag when, with two minutes to go, a Sale surge at their tryline was foiled by a fumbled ball into open space after a heavy tackle from the visitors. Bath even had the sniff of a length-of-the-field try and hoofed the ball downfield – except it was intercepted by Sale, who scored near the posts. MacLeod's conversion made it 20-20.
It was in the final few minutes of the game that both sides, rather than take the draw, threw the kitchen sink at each other looking for the win.
First Sale looked to have broken away with an intercept, only for a heroic chase by Tom Biggs to haul his man back down. When play moved to the other side of the field following a Bath penalty, a Trojan effort by Dave Attwood resulted in an exhilarating try with time dead on the clock.
Heathcote made a fine conversion to put the cherry on a dazzling match between these two sides.
Final Score: Sale Sharks 20 - Bath Rugby 27