There was not much goodwill here as Bath and Sale, third and fourth in the Guinness Premiership, locked horns in a thrilling and thoroughly entertaining match.
Bath prevailed when, for the second time in a month, they scored a try with the last move of the match. Just as he had been involved in the previous late win, against Leicester in November, with a scoring pass for Butch James, so Alex Crockett again set things up. It was the centre's cross-kick that his left wing, Matt Banahan, gathered under pressure from Sale's two-try hero, Mark Cueto. Banahan plunged over and took Bath into second place in the table, behind London Irish.
It had been a physical encounter throughout, both sides refusing to take a backward step. The back rows gave their all and the front fives ensured that the set piece and the line-out remained competitive.
But while it was intense up front, both teams turned on an exhilarating display of running rugby as well. The intensity of the last 10 minutes was tangible as each side launched bold attacks from deep.
Two points had separated the sides coming into the game but it was all that the referee, David Rose, could do to keep them apart early on. Sébastien Chabal and Justin Harrison went head to head. They were eventually calmed down enough for play to continue but shortly afterwards Harrison failed to roll away from a tackle. Sale's Wales scrum-half, Dwayne Peel, tapped and went and fed Charlie Hodgson, who sent Luke McAlister over on the left.
More trouble erupted as Bath pressed. There were clashes after Chabal was penalised for offside at a ruck and the Frenchman appeared to indicate some illegal footwork by a Bath player. Chabal decided to police it in his own way and ended up in the sin-bin.
From the penalty and its ensuing line-out the Bath No 8, Daniel Browne, was driven over. James's conversion nosed Bath ahead. The sides then exchanged yellow cards, Sale losing the prop Stuart Turner and Bath their captain, the flanker Michael Lipman. Although the home team increased their lead with a James penalty, Sale hit back through a try by Cueto which was confirmed by the video referee.
McAlister converted but Sale's lead was thrown away on the stroke of half-time when Sale were caught offside and James knocked over the penalty to give Bath a slender lead.
There were further penalties for each side after the interval but Cueto's second try, after a neat inside flick by Hodgson, opened a gap. If McAlister's conversion had not hit the right-hand post Sale's cause would have been better helped. James narrowed the gap soon after with his fourth penalty. He had missed two further attempts but thanks to Banahan, it didn't matter.
Bath: N Abendanon (J Cuthbert, 39-40 & 76); J Maddock, A Crockett, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens (S Bemand, 70); D Barnes, L Mears (P Dixon, 72), M Stevens (D Bell, 72), J Harrison (S Hooper, 65), P Short, J Faamatuainu (A Beattie, 65), D Browne, M Lipman (capt).
Sale: M Cueto; C Bell, A Tuilagi (M Tait, 72), L McAlister, D Doherty; C Hodgson, D Peel; A Sheridan (L Faure, 74), N Briggs, S Turner (Faure, 48-74), S Chabal, D Schofield (B Cockbain, 76), J White, JM Fernandez-Lobbe (capt), L Abraham (Faure, 33-40).
Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).Reuse content