Sale Sharks inflicted a second consecutive home defeat on a desperately unlucky Bath Rugby at the Rec, edging a tight encounter 11-12 on a rain-soaked evening in the city.
Sale notched up their first points on six minutes, when Bath were penalised for illegal entry at the ruck. Fly-half Danny Cipriani slotted the penalty from in front of the posts to make it 0-3 to Sale.
After some inspired attacking work by George Ford and Nick Abendanon caused panic in the Sale defence, Bath were awarded a penalty as the visitors strayed offside. The resultant penalty from Ford drew the scores level with just over eleven minutes on the clock. 3-3.
When Bath were penalised for a high tackle in the 17th minute, Cipriani took the lead for Sale again with another successful three-pointer. 3-6.
Five minutes later, Cipriani struck a third successful penalty from a similar position after Bath were pinged at the scrum to extend Sale’s lead to 3-9.
On 33 minutes, Bath were granted a way back in as a Sale player failed to retreat onside. Ford got his team back to within three points with a well-struck penalty. 6-9.
With minutes to go in the first half, Bath had an opportunity to equalise with Sale after Sharks openside Dave Seymour was punished for not rolling away. Ford’s attempt at goal failed, however, and it was Sale who went in at half time with a three-point lead.
Half time: Bath Rugby 6 – Sale Sharks 9
As with the first half, it took Sale only six minutes to get on the scoreboard in the second. Bath, penalised for diving in at the ruck, were made to pay as Cipriani continued with his fine kicking form. 6-12.
With an hour gone, outstanding strength from Matt Garvey at the breakdown signalled Bath’s first chance of points in the second half, but Ford’s penalty kick was marginally wide.
Bath exerted great pressure on Sale’s scrum on the visitors’ 5m line, reverting the put-in to the home team. Again, the men in Blue, Black and White dominated, forcing Sale to concede another penalty. A TMO ruled out a try from Leroy Houston from the move that followed, before Sale were penalised again at the reset scrum.
After Sharks were pinged on five consecutive occasions, Bath-bound replacement prop Henry Thomas was sin-binned, but the referee still called for another scrum rather than a penalty try to the home side. Sale were penalised a sixth time at the scrum, but when the seventh was set, the ball squirted out on Bath’s side and the visitors escaped imminent danger.
It was a desperate Bath that broke into Sale’s half with just over five minutes left, but their driving maul was assured and the TMO eventually judged Ross Batty to have touched down. Ford’s conversion attempt, however, was slightly askew, and Sale held an 11-12 lead.
Bath had two opportunities for drop goals as they attacked in the final minutes of play, but both were wide and Sale were rewarded with victory for their committed performance.
Congratulations must go to Nick Abendanon and Nathan Catt, who made their 200th and 100th appearances respectively for Bath Rugby.
Full time: Bath Rugby 11 – Sale Sharks 12