As the local heroine Jane Austen might have put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a club in possession of a good fortune, as Bath are, go into a Premiership season expecting success, particularly when they have a squad to match. Sale and their new head coach, Mike Brewer, had placed their faith in pride over such prejudice. They thought Bath would be vulnerable after a chastening defeat nine days ago. The bonus-point try run in near the end by Ben Williams, a Dorset lad in the Bath back line, said otherwise.
Sale have now won once away in 18 league attempts and are tipped by most for the bottom half of the table. Hearteningly, they had won two home matches either side of losing at Saracens this season. Damagingly, they were messed about by injuries to their midfield before and during this match. Brewer, who overhauled the squad in the summer, was not interested in excuses.
"We got what we deserved," he said, with the toughness of a 32-cap All Black back-rower. "I can spin a load of bullshit to you as far as us being a maturing side and all that. But if individuals go out on to the field and they're not committed and haven't got the attitude to tackle, the opposition will run through you. The first two tries Bath scored were from two incredibly poor missed tackles and I read the riot act at half-time. We played as we trained during the week – not enough intensity and not enough accuracy."
There had been 25 minutes of so-so rugby – ball lost in the tackle was a feature all afternoon – when Bath led 10-6. They took a scrum instead of a shot at goal in the 12th minute, and created a try with a clever, flat miss-pass from the No 8 and captain, Luke Watson, to Duncan Bell. That is probably that for the popular tighthead prop, who has averaged one try a season for Bath since joining in 2003.
Olly Barkley kicked the conversion and a penalty before Paul Williams kicked two penalties for Sale. But they came during a disruptive period for the visitors. Sale's Welsh fly-half, Nick Macleod, limped off and the Ireland Under-20 inside centre Kyle Tonetti followed. On came a New Zealander and an Englishman, Matty James and Rob Miller, and it all left Ben Cohen over-exposed as a big wing at outside centre. The general muddle allowed Bath's England centre, Shontayne Hape through on a criminally straightforward scissors with Barkley behind a scrum, which Brewer put down to James and Mark Cueto.
Bath's own convert in the Cohen mould, Matt Banahan, was missing injured, together with David Flatman, Simon Taylor, Butch James and the rested Davey Wilson. But Barkley and Sam Vesty are holding the midfield end up nicely in James's absence. At full-back, Nick Abendanon moved less than comfortably with half an A&E department's worth of bandage around his left thigh, and Sale did their damnedest to exploit that with chips through the line. Not to any great effect, though.
Barkley converted Bath's three first-half tries though there was good fortune in the third, by Matt Carraro. The referee, JP Doyle, appeared to be playing advantage for a knock-on by Bell when Cueto, demonstrating Sale's willingness to run from deep, had a pass intercepted. Carraro hesitated for a moment before running the ball in as Mr Doyle saw nothing amiss.
Paul Williams' third penalty trimmed Bath's lead to 24-9 after 56 minutes after which the battle shiftedto the scrum. Two on Sale's line were wheeled and Andrew Sheridan, the England loosehead prop feeling his way back after operations on both shoulders, eventually stalked from the field. A third uncomfortable scrum on Sale's line followed, but Dwayne Peel tidied it up. He generally passed beautifully but what the Welsh scrum-half could never do alone was cover for the absence of two injured internationals, Charlie Hodgson and Mathew Tait, outside him.
Almost inevitably Bath, who have Sir Ian McGeechan's coaching nous and the owner Bruce Craig's money to heighten their expectations, scored again with two minutes remaining. Tom Biggs was held at one corner but Williams nipped past Cueto at the other. Barkley converted. Wame Lewaravu galumphed to a convertedtry for Sale at the death.
Bath's head coach, Steve Meehan, was satisfied: "We didn't shout and scream about what happened at Northampton and we were pretty pleased with the response."
Bath N Abendanon; M Carraro, S Hape (B Williams, 62), O Barkley, T Biggs; S Vesty, M Claassens; D Barnes (N Catt, 62), P Dixon (R Batty, 61), D Bell, S Hooper, D Grewcock (B Skirving, 62), A Beattie (J Ovens, 74), L Watson (capt), L Moody.
Sale Sharks P Williams; T Brady, B Cohen, K Tonetti (R Miller, 28), M Cueto; N Macleod (M James, 22), D Peel; A Sheridan (L Imiolek, 70), A Croall (N Briggs, 40), K Wihongi (J Forster, 56), N Rouse, W Lewaravu, C Fearns, S Koyamaibole (K Ormsby, 40), D Seymour (capt; J Gaskell, 46).
Referee JP Doyle (London).Reuse content