Rugby Union: Bath's gamesmanship sinks Sale

Sale 11 Bath 13
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Sale 11 Bath 13

There have been many victories that have given Bath more pleasure than this one at Heywood Road, very few they have had to work so hard for, and even fewer when the two league points appeared to have slipped from their grasp. Sale gave so little away, while accumulating only a part of what they had worked so tirelessly for, that Bath must still be wondering how they achieved it.

On a filthy afternoon when graft played as important a part as craft, what was not garnered by those essential ingredients was obtained by the sort of gamesmanship which all teams with the wherewithal to compete in the most ruthless pursuit of the big prizes must have in their armoury. Bath have an arsenal of it.

In a match as tight as this, it requires an explosion to create openings in hermetically-sealed defences. Or a mistake or two, as tired bodies find their tackling lacks the absolute conviction it did earlier in the game. Though as Sale mounted a booming climax only Adedayo Adebayo could be faulted in this respect, as he allowed Tom Beim to slip through his grasp for a try.

With only three minutes of normal time remaining, and a similar amount to be added on for stoppages, Shane Howarth's conversion was never going to be the final act, however important. Wide on the right, Howarth's kick at first appeared on target, but it faded past the left post; so Sale required another score to win.

There was no let-up to Sale's momentum as they drove back deep into Bath territory, where they were awarded a scrum 25 metres out and just to the left of the posts. Time for some Bath gamesmanship, and for their scrum- half Andy Nicol to belt the ball into the crowd. Moments later, from an almost identical position, Nicol repeated the offence.

Had referee John Pearson not overlooked Law 26 - that deals with the wilful wasting of time, and misconduct prejudicial to the spirit of good sportsmanship - which would have given Howarth a penalty chance from an eminently kickable position, Sale might have won.

If Nicol's double transgression and Pearson's myopia was a little hard on Sale, there was more misfortune to come. Still pressing in injury time, the home forwards set up a position for Simon Mannix to drop for goal. Mannix struck the ball sweetly enough, but it glanced the head of the Bath No 8 Eric Peters, and slid tantalisingly wide of the left upright.

Sale: Try Beim; Penalties Howarth 2. Bath: Try Butland; Conversion Catt; Penalties Catt 2.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, S Howarth, J Baxendell, T Beim; S Mannix, K Ellis; D Bell, S Diamond (G Dawe, 51), D Williamson (M. Driver, 71), D Baldwin, S Raiwalui, D Erskine, P Sanderson (D O'Cuinneagain, 74), C Vyvyan.

Bath: M Perry (J Callard, 74); I Evans, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; R Butland, A Nicol (capt); K Yates, M Regan, J Mallett (V Ubogu, 74), B Cusack, N Redman, N Thomas (R Earnshaw, 78), R Webster, E Peters.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Teesside).