Match summary – Sale Sharks 20-19 Bath Rugby
Bath Rugby were denied a Round 1 win in the closing stages against Sale Sharks, but left the AJ Bell with plenty of positivity and a losing bonus point.
Akker van der Merwe and Byron McGuigan tries, as well as Rob du Preez’s boot, raced the hosts into a commanding lead at half-time with Danny Cipriani’s penalty knocking over a penalty just before the break.
The Blue, Black and White’s style was fully on show in the second half and Juan Schoeman crossed for his first try for the club, adding to a further two Cipriani shots at goal.
Orlando Bailey was successful with two penalties of his own, the second giving Bath the lead but Kieran Wilkinson’s late effort clinched the win for the home side.
Bath named two debutants in Cipriani and Johannes Jonker for the trip to the AJ Bell Stadium, with all three try scorers from the Blue, Black and White’s 2020/21 trip to Manchester – Tom de Glanville, Josh Bayliss and Tom Dunn – also earning starts.
D’Arcy Rae and Jaco Coetzee were set for their first competitive outings from the bench.
Sale selected England centre Manu Tuilagi in their starting XV with new signing Nick Schonert slotting straight in at tighthead.
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Will Muir, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Beno Obano, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Johannes Jonker, 4 Mike Williams, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Miles Reid, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Josh Bayliss
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Ollie Fox, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Max Clark
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Raffi Quirke; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Akker Van der Merwe, 3 Nick Schonert, 4 Cobus Wiese, 5 JP du Preez, 6 Cameron Nield, 7 Ben Curry, 8 Jono Ross ©
Replacements:16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Cal Ford, 19 Rouban Birch, 20 Sam Dugdale, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Kieran Wilkinson, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
There was a genuine excitement amongst the away playing group and coaches as they walked off the bus into the AJ Bell Stadium and that was echoed in the side’s early, energetic play.
Beno Obano led the charge with two powerful carries within seconds of each other. Max Ojomoh displayed his passing prowess while Will Muir jinked in and out of several defenders on his maiden jaunt.
Bath’s offloading game came into fruition in the opening find minutes to help the latter canter along with flanker Miles Reid.
In defence, the Blue, Black and White were tested too. Simon Hammersley’s smart grubber in behind was scooped up Semesa Rokoduguni and when he was tackled, Ben Curry looked to have stolen on the deck but for an excellent clearout from Cipriani.
Sale were dangerous in their attempts to collect the first score and van der Merwe would have had a rollover try to his name – like he scored so many times last season – if not for the superb effort from Reid on his own line to disrupt and force a knock on.
Promising signs in attack continued for Bath as Rokoduguni stretched his legs from a beautifully floated Cipriani pass and a delicious phase of handling between forwards and backs once again allowed Muir ball time.
The eagerness to press and get in the faces of the hosts meant toying with the offside line and on 23 minutes, the visitors overstepped and du Preez slotted a close-range penalty.
Alex Sanderson’s side capitalised on their momentum and soon stretched their lead; Van der Merwe refusing to be stopped on his next maul opportunity. Soon after, they crossed for a second score. Raffi Quirke’s quick thinking saw him breach the Bath line and he sent McGuigan into the corner.
Just shy of the break, Bath responded with their best move of the half. Loosehead Obano bulldozed his way past several men in blue and lifted the ball up for Reid to crash on to. The homegrown back rower combined with Charlie Ewels who in turn laid it up for scrum-half Ollie Fox who was hauled down an inch short.
Hammersley’s hands denied a possible scoring chance which saw him sin binned and Cipriani confirmed his first points in a Bath jersey from the tee.
The momentum of the penalty carried over into the second half and Cipriani added another three points to keep the Bath scoreboard ticking over.
While offloads may have gone astray in the first period, stylistically things began to piece together for Stuart Hooper’s side with Ojomoh darting through holes and Fox sniping around the fringes.
That expansive nature transferred into points just before the hour. Slick ball play created an opening for Reid to dart towards the whitewash and when he was thwarted, Schoeman burrowed to the right of the upright for his first try in Bath colours.
With confidence building, the introduction of Jaco Coetzee and D’Arcy Rae for their debuts gave a fresh impetus at scrum time and a few phases later, Bailey kicked a deserved penalty for the West Country outfit’s dominance.
Sale remained threatening on the counter. Will Cliff’s intelligent chip almost resulted in Sam James crossing but great scramble defence denied the chance.
Moments later, du Preez broke away on the outside and he would have dotted down to extend the Sharks’ lead but for a last-ditch Muir tackle which forced a mistake.
Then it was Bath’s turn to advance, offloading skilfully on a deep team run from inside their own half. The attacking intent was there for all to see, and Bailey rewarded the positivity with his second penalty of the evening to give Bath the lead for the first time in the match.
But with two minutes left on the clock, replacement Wilkinson kicked a penalty to reverse the favour of the scoreline once more.
Bath didn’t let the turnaround effect their pursuit of the winning score and they gave themselves a last-gasp chance as Bailey courageously opted for the sticks from distance.
His attempt fell just short and Sale punted the ball into touch for the win but overall, there were lots of positives for the Blue, Black and White on the opening day.
AJ Bell Stadium
18 September 2021
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Half Time score: 17-3
- Tries: van der Merwe (29), McGuigan (34)
- Conversions: du Preez (30, 36)
- Penalties: du Preez (23), Wilkinson (78)
- Tries: Schoeman (52)
- Conversions: Bailey (53)
- Penalties: Cipriani (38, 43), Bailey (67, 74)