THE North almost lived up to its growing reputation as the giants' graveyard once more yesterday. Quins went down here in mid-October, Wasps failed at Orrell a week ago, and it looked, after 36 minutes of the second half, as if Bath would lose their unbeaten record to a Sale side five points up and with a head of steam.
But Bath always have emergency rations of strength, weight and talent, and simply by raising their work-rate they scored 17 points - two goals and a penalty goal - in the last 10 minutes. The final margin looked comfortable, but it was wrung out of what John Hall acknowledged was the best side Bath had played against this season.
Sale did not allow them to call up these resources earlier on. Except for a three-minute spell early in the second half, when scores were level, Bath were trailing and under pressure from the clean take of Dave Baldwin in the middle of the lineout and of John Fowler at the front, and the quickness of Neil Ashurst around the set-pieces. The one manoeuvre in which Bath excelled was in using their bulk to roll the ball upfield in the maul. But Sale reduced their opportunities by keeping the ball away from them for long periods both by their perseverance in the line- out and through Paul Turner's brilliant use of the touchline.
Bath have always had enormous strength among the backs, and on yesterday's evidence this was crucial in the final quarter of an hour. By that time Sale's powers were diminished by tiredness and injury - Baldwin was off the field and there were walking wounded among their backs.
Bath won the toss and set Sale to play towards a low, hanging sun. But that was the only way they dazzled them. In the first half Rob Liley and Jonathan Callard exchanged two penalties apiece, but it was Sale who got the try. From Ashurst's kick into the corner, Sale took the line-out against the throw, twice went to ground and won back the ball. Finally, Jim Mallinder came into the line to score the try to break the impasse.
When Audley Lumsden enabled Bath to level the scores, put across in the corner by Callard, Sale replied within three minutes when Jos Baxendall took a pass at his fingertips, and his momentum carried him over. In the last 20 minutes, though, Sale were beginning to struggle. Bath's discipline was holding, as though they were convinced that they would win.
It was Callard who gave them back the lead, coming in on the left for a try from a line which the now departed Baldwin would have expected to win. Then a break and kick-ahead by Jeremy Guscott put Lumsden over for his second try. Callard converted both tries and still had time to add an unnecessary penalty.
Sale: J Mallinder (capt); R Liley, J Baxendell, G Higginbotham, C Yates; P Turner, M Warr; A Yates, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, P Hewitt, N Ashurst, C Vyvyan.
Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; R Butland, I Sanders; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Obugu, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, B Clarke.
Referee: C Rees (London Society).