Rugby union: Bath power to record

Bath 84 Sale 7
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The Independent Online
Academic as it may have been, there is still a lot of pride to be restored in Bath and yesterday's record win for the West Country club in the Courage League underlined that. Although they lost their title to Wasps yesterday they never looked like losing to Sale. And though the two teams began the match on an equal footing - 27 points from 13 wins and a draw - that was as far as the similarity went.

The Recreation Ground may not be as packed these days but it was still buzzing, while out on the pitch Bath appeared to have the place to themselves. The dethroned Courage League champions outplayed Sale in every phase. The match rapidly turned into exhibition rugby. The back row of Dan Lyle, Richard Webster and Nathan Thomas were given free rein to gallop around the pitch and generally ride rough-shod over their disappointing opponents. If Sale were trying to prove that they have more than one string to their bow, they failed. This second-string side, which will contest the Cheshire Cup final in a couple of weeks' time against Chester, was short of any European aspirations.

It was clearly not a match ear-marked for heroics. The first choice are knackered having played three matches in seven days and Leicester are at Heywood Road next week. There was a certain logic, albeit flawed, to yesterday's selection - if the first-choice side can overcome Leicester next week it would guarantee them a place in Europe.

There was no John Mitchell, their abrasive back row, Simon Mannix has a serious back injury, likewise Jim Mallender was taking a breather and, crucially, their valuable lock Dave Baldwin was also absent through injury.

Federico Mendez revelled in the freedom. The burly Argentinian front- row forward displayed impressive athleticism, excellent handling skills, an amazing right foot (a kick for touch in the second half went from 22 to 22).

He also has in his armoury superlative running ability, his swerving, mesmerising dash for his first try left defenders and crowd open-mouthed in astonishment.

That was one of five tries in the first half, four of which were converted by the England fly-half Mike Catt, who scored 26 points in all, and the other by the captain for the day Jon Callard. It is difficult to comprehend how Bath could have let their season slip away. The sort of handling on show in evil conditions was exemplary, trophy-winning stuff.

However slippery the ball and the going, Bath rose above it. By the second half they were running everything from everywhere. There was one blemish.

It came between Mendez's second try for the day and his sixth for the club and Catt's second. Sale were allowed to encroach close enough to the Bath line to be able to shove their hooker Luke Hewson over for a try.

Back came Bath and their other beefy Argentinian import, the lock German Llanes, who rumbled over from close range and was followed shortly after by the popular Adedayo Adebayo, who had received the ball from a well- timed Jeremy Guscott pass from deep in his own half.

Mendez and Lyle were playing like backs themselves, one delightful movement sweeping them upfield, sadly the move broke down, but not the Bath mean machine. A long pass from Catt sent Guscott in, then Matt Perry touched down, Guscott again and every try was converted.

Bath: J Callard (capt); J Sleightholme (M Horne, 40), M Perry, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; K Yates (D Hilton, 73), F Mendez, J Mallett, M Haag, G Llanes, N Thomas (E Peters, 61), D Lyle, R Webster (A Long, 77).

Sale: A Griffin (J Aby, 54); M Moore, C Yates, D Wright, S Verbickas; N Ryan, J O'Reilly (M Warr, 59); A Yates, L Hewson, M Driver (J Batt, 73), R McCartney, S Fletcher, N Ashurst, M Karaittian (P Sanderson, 54), A Morris (capt) (M Dobson, 73).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).

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