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Bath's new era marked by strong win

After all the excitement of the last three days a change of ownership, a stately home for a new state-of-the-art HQ and a firm commitment from the new chairman to build a new stadium in time for the club's 150th birthday in 2015 it was back to the serious stuff.

There were still a few formalities, of course. Bruce Craig was led on to the pitch before kick-off by outgoing chairman Andrew Brownsword and introduced himself to the packed stands, reminding supporters how important they are as the 16th player. They each then shook hands with members of the matchday squad as they completed their preparations.

With the Recreation Ground bathed in sunshine for the occasion, all that was needed to round off a perfect week was a convincing victory.

And, after a hesitant opening quarter, that's what Steve Meehan's squad served up for the new boss, with tries coming from Lee Mears, Olly Barkley, Matt Banahan, Joe Maddock and David Barnes. Barkley kicked a penalty and three conversions.

With the bonus point try coming as early as the 50th minute there was even opportunity to rest players negotiating a tough schedule of three matches in eight days which will confirm Heineken Cup qualification and perhaps a play-off place.

"We were a little bit rusty but it was a good performance leading into Tuesday evening's game with Northampton," said Meehan, "It's been the sort of week that none of us has experienced before and there were errors for the first 20 minutes but in the end it was a nice start for the new chairman.

"Now nothing less than three wins will do. The reality of it was we had to win today and we did it with five tries and a bonus point but we've still got to rely on other teams slipping up."

Sale's preparations were upset by the loss of Charlie Hodgson through injury, leaving scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth to switch to fly-half and take over the kicking duties. He was well off-target with two attempts when Sale enjoyed plenty of the play early on.

Barkley opened the scoring on 18 minutes from close range and although a 50-metre effort soon afterwards dropped under bar, he had no trouble converting Mears's 25th minute try. The Lions hooker slipped off a maul after a catch-and-drive by Danny Grewcock at a line-out and was just too slippery for visiting tighthead Jack Forster.

Sale began to concede penalty after penalty, their indiscipline earning a warning for skipper Dean Schofield, and Bath were playing the advantage again when Barkley looped around the busy Matt Carraro to score the second with 33 minutes on the clock.

With the Bath forwards in commanding form at both scrum and line-out, the home backs were finding plenty of holes but the final pass too often went astray. Wigglesworth gave his side a brief glimmer of light with a penalty on the stroke of half-time but the home team came out after the interval and immediately snuffed it out.

The ball was in play for a full two minutes after the restart when Carraro offloaded to Banahan who barged through a weak tackle by Sale fullback Marika Vakacegu and then carried two defenders over the line with him. Barkley's conversion took the score to a healthy 24-3.

The second half lost its way in a welter of substitutions from both sides understandable in the heat and in view of the challenges ahead.

But the bonus point try after 50 minutes was a masterclass in sidestepping from Maddock. The ball had been kept alive on the right by Julian Salvi and swept across field by Barkley's inch-perfect pass to Abendanon. The fullback's running with ball in hand had again thrilled the big crowd but this time he offloaded instantly to his wing who displayed perfect balance in beating four defenders before touching down.

Sale hit back with an excellent try by World Cup winner Ben Cohen three minutes later after good work down the left by Vakacegu, Mathew Tait and Chris Jones but it went unconverted.

The Bath forwards then decided to show that they could do plenty with the ball and mounted a series of assaults on the Sale line before Barnes drove over in the left corner with assistance from replacement Aaron Jarvis.

As the game became increasingly less structured, Sale came to close to breaking through on several occasions before No 8 Kris Ormsby went over for a 77th minute score, converted by Wigglesworth.

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