Rugby Union: Sale set upon in short order

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The Independent Online
Bath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Sale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

SHORT AND sweet he may be, but at least the uncapped Neil Back is not alone in his frustration with England's selectors. Andy Robinson, the Bath flanker whose seventh and last appearance in an international came against Wales in 1989, is equally qualified to join in a chorus of 'why are we waiting' as the tale of the tape continues to read like a cruel joke.

If you think Back, a pocket battleship at 5ft 10in, has problems then imagine how Robinson feels when height is discussed. 'My programme height is 5-11, but I'm actually 5-9,' the Bath captain said. There is no shortage of humour, though he cannot help but criticise the modern view that big is best.

'I must admit I'm slightly stunned because the game hasn't changed that much,' Robinson said after turning in a typically effective performance against Sale at the Recreation Ground on Saturday. 'The selectors are looking for power runners, which I can accept, but you also need your ball- winners.' Bath, of course, need look no further.

Robinson was here, there and everywhere, the perfect link as Sale were broken down. 'Neil Back and myself play a similar game. It's playing like a second scrum-half in some respects. In the back row you need an open side who is going to create balance and to keep the momentum going for these power runners to work. It is what the new laws call for.'

If Back needs encouragement, then Robinson supplies it. 'I wasn't too small when I last played for England and they wanted the big forwards even then. I expect things to change eventually and I can be critical because it affects me.' Meanwhile, Bath can be thankful for small mercies in lifting their game for another tilt at the league title.

The Courage campaign gets under way again next weekend and for the champions that entails a home outing against Rugby. Having let slip their hold on the Pilkington Cup, the winding-up process is all-consuming. 'By the time the lads return from Lanzarote we won't have been together for nearly six weeks, since that defeat at Waterloo,' Robinson said, 'but we've always made it clear that the league is our prime target.'

Rugby are fighting for their League One lives and so, too, are Gloucester, lying in wait for Bath at Kingsholm before what is eagerly anticipated as the showdown with the table-topping Wasps at the Rec on 13 March. All these encounters were about as far removed from Saturday's fare as you could get.

Sale, running fourth in a League Two from which seven will be relegated at the end of the season, face a big return to championship life against Moseley and were close to full strength at Bath. Their strong point lay in tackling but, with Robinson leading by example, there was an inevitability about the result.

Bath appeared to be heading for a cricket score when a tap penalty led to a try for David Egerton after 16 minutes, but it was close to the break before the predatory Tony Swift intercepted to wrong- foot Sale. And there was nothing more until Egerton and Swift completed the scoring with two tries in as many minutes deep in the second half.

Bath: Tries: Egerton 2, Swift 2. Conversions: Callard 3. Sale: Penalties: Jee 2.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, J Bamsey, I Lewis, P Blackett (J Knight, 28); C Raymond, R Hill; D Crompton, G Dawe, M Crane, M Haag, S O'Leary, A Robinson (capt), D Egerton, N Maslen.

Sale: J Mallender; R Davies, P Stansfield, G Stocks, K Young; P Jee, M Warr; P Smith, W Diamond, M Whitcombe (capt), D Baldwin, D Erskine, D O'Grady, M Kenrick (R Finney, 54), M Dobson.

Referee: K Beaumont (Devon).

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