Bath 9 Sale 21: Elvis rocks his old team

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The Independent Online

It was not the start that Brian Ashton, Bath's new head coach, wanted, a disappointing, tryless defeat which ended a run of four victories in all competitions.

One thing is for sure though, Ashton's return to the club he left nine years ago to the month, should mark a turnaround in approach and should produce tries home and away.

This was the third Guinness Premiership match at home when Bath have failed to score a try and they have managed just a dozen in the first half of the campaign.

The 59-year-old Ashton gave up his post as head of the national academy to return to the club he had helped mould into an exciting and stylish side and yesterday, having just taken up the reins once again, Ashton promised an attacking brand of rugby, based, though, on pragmatism.

On the evidence of this game he will have his work cut out trying to eliminate a tendency to hang on to the ball with the line at their mercy. The fullback Mike Stephenson eschewed such an opportunity with men outside him and there were other creative moments which came to nought.

As for Sale, they played like the best team in the Premiership that they are. They did have a propensity to spill ball in contact and their line-out was infinitely inferior to Bath's, but they were able to turn what rare opportunities they were presented with into tries.

They owed a huge debt to their pack, in particular the ferocious No 8 Sebastien Chabal, while behind him the England fly-half Charlie Hodgson was in stunning form. He landed penalties when they mattered, turned Bath around with telling kicks when they were needed and launched his lethal backs as often as he could.

One of those backs was the Samoan international Elvis Seveali'i, a Bath player himself three seasons ago, when his late try against London Irish spared them from relegation.

Bath in their wisdom decided not to retain his services at the end of his short spell with them in which he scored five tries - the majority of them match-winners - in a handful of games.

Yesterday he had the satisfaction of scoring the try which knocked much of the stuffing out of his former employers, early in the second half, when Hodgson presented him with a perfect off-load.

The winger rocked and rolled his way through three despairing Bath tackles before touching down. Hodgson converted and when the workaholic openside Magnus Lund rounded off a fine break by Mark Cueto, Bath were doomed. Hodgson's final penalty merely served to underline the gulf between the two teams.

Ashton, giving reasons for his return said yesterday: "I found I was drifting into administration and I am no administrator; I was drifting into politics and I am no politician; and I was asked to act from time to time in a diplomatic fashion and I am no diplomat." So no doubt Bath will learn just where they stand this week, and teetering close to the bottom of the table is not where Ashton wants them.

Bath: Penalties Barkley 3. Sale: Tries Seveali'i, Lund; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 3.

Bath: M Stephenson; J Maddock (R Davies, 80), A Crockett, O Barkley, D Bory (A Higgins, 70); C Malone, N Walshe (A Williams, 70); M Stevens, L Mears (P Dixon, 80), D Bell (D Flatman, 77), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Beattie (P Short, 77), J Scaysbrook, I Feaunati (G Delve, 73).

Sale: D Larrechea; M Cueto, M Taylor (C Mayor, 69), E Seveali'i, J Robinson (capt); C Hodgson, S Martens (R Wigglesworth, 33-h-t & 69); A Sheridan (L Faure, 80), S Bruno (A Titterell, 80), S Turner (B Coutts, 74), C Jones (C Day, 80), D Schofield, J White, M Lund, S Chabal (E Taione, 72).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).

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