Bath rebound in thriller

PAUL STEPHENS

Sale 18 Bath 30

The marketing men would have us believe that rugby union can never be a saleable product until the laws are changed to make it more like rugby league.

Not before the 15-man code is freed up and the ball kept in play for longer will it be truly televisual and attract worthwhile audiences. But, unlike league, rugby union is a multi-dimensional game which can be compelling to watch, especially when two teams are committed to a fluid, expansive game as the means of victory; never mind any obligation to entertain.

Perhaps the marketeers and the law revisionists should spend more time in the North- west before pressing their demands. Seven days earlier Orrell and Wasps had staged a nine-try thriller at Edgehall Road. On Saturday, Sale and Bath regaled a capacity crowd with a contest of added quality and, for 74 minutes at least, one of even greater excitement.

The sunlit afternoon was perfectly still, the pitch freshly-mown. "If we can't play here in conditions like this, we may as well go home,'' John Hall, Bath's team manager, said.

When it was time to leave, Bath were in possession of both points, their unbeaten record intact. Hall's acknowledgement of their opponents was generous.

"Sale were the best team we have played this season,'' he said. "At one stage, the result was slipping away from us. But we've got the knack of lifting our game in the final 10 minutes and that rescued us.''

Before the visit of Gloucester, Sale will need rescuing from the realisation that, just as they did in September when they had Leicester by the throat, they once again let a prized prey escape.

Sale scored the only try of the first half when Jim Mallinder pierced Bath's cover after Paul Turner and Jos Baxendell masterfully exploited Neil Ashurst's drive to the posts. Rob Liley converted, and he and Jonathan Callard each kicked two penalties for Sale to reach the break deservedly ahead at 13-6.

Sale responded immediately to Audley Lumsden's try with an audacious score by Baxendell, in which Turner inevitably had a hand. But, crucially, Liley had fluffed an easy penalty and hit the upright with the conversion. So instead of being 10 points clear they only five in hand.

It was enough to give Bath a glimmer of hope. With six minutes remaining Callard skipped across for a try. Lumsden got his second and Callard converted both and kicked a third penalty. It completed a remarkable scoring sequence to end a brilliant piece of sporting theatre which, at under a tenner, was marvellous value for money.

Sale: Tries Mallinder, Baxendell; Conversion Liley; Penalties Liley 2. Bath: Tries Lumsden 2, Callard; Conversions Callard 3; Penalties Callard 3.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); R Liley, J Baxendell, G Higginbotham, C Yates; P Turner, M Warr; A Yates (M Ridehalgh, 75), S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin (D Erskine, 58), N Ashurst, P Hewitt, C Vyvyan.

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; R Butland, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, S Ojomoh, A Robinson, B Clarke.

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).

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