Sale Sharks vs Bath match report: George Ford sees off Danny Cipriani in the battle of England fly-halves as Bath begin with win

Ford set-up tries for Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni in front of England head coach Stuart Lancaster

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If England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster and his right-hand man, Andrew Farrell, came to this stadium anticipating a shoot-out at the AJ corral, between prospective Test fly-halves Danny Cipriani and George Ford, they saw the latter fire the decisive shots.

Ford played a big part in Bath’s tries at either end of the match and kicked faultlessly from the tee to make a great start to the season in a facet of the game that caused him severe heartache when his club faded to a fifth-place finish in the Premiership and defeat in the Amlin Challenge Cup final last spring.

Cipriani had celebrated the resumption of his England career during the summer tour of New Zealand while Ford was absent recuperating from shoulder surgery, but the Sale No 10 failed to see this match out as he was substituted for the last eight minutes by Ford’s brother Joe for Sale.

“We needed field position, and Joe has a good all-round aerial game,” explained Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby.


It did not work as his team gave up 10 points and a winning position to a try by Semesa Rokoduguni, made by George Ford’s skilful show-and-go and outside pass, followed by a long-range penalty kicked by Ford after Henry Thomas – the tighthead prop who left Sale for Bath in the summer – wrought a scrummaging penalty out of his erstwhile mates in the home pack.

England will name a senior elite squad of 33 players next month, ahead of the four November internationals at Twickenham, and Lancaster needs to perm three fly-halves from the six who have worn the white jersey this calendar year. Ford, Saracens’ Owen Farrell and Leicester’s Freddie Burns were in the equivalent squad last January, and it would need something remarkable by Cipriani, Steve Myler or Henry Slade to buck the pecking order. A dearth of clean ball, plus some mix-ups with a second-choice centre pairing of Mark Jennings and Will Addison, did the Sale contender’s chances little good.

Will Addison of Sale is tackled by Anthony Watson of Bath

Ford had not played in pre-season, but the 21-year-old capped by England during the Six Nations Championship was into his stride immediately as Bath scored a try in 42 seconds. A turnover gave Ford possession near the halfway line and he fashioned a dainty cross-kick with the outside of his right boot – one problem is that he really hasn’t got a left boot – towards the left wing where Sale’s new full-back, the Italy international Luke McLean, appeared not to spot Anthony Watson haring towards him. Watson plucked the ball from under McLean’s nose for a joyous run-in and Ford’s simple conversion had Bath 7-0 up.

An on-filed scrap between Sale and Bath players breaks out

By half-time, Sale, who did the double over Bath in the league on the way to sixth place last season, had fought back to trail 16-13. There was a yellow card for Bath’s Dominic Day for clumsily clattering Cipriani after the ball had gone, two penalties by Cipriani to three by Ford, and a converted try for Sale when the pugnacious Jennings spun away from a ruck.

There was also a possible try for Bath’s Leroy Houston ruled out by the first of three calls by the referee JP Doyle to the television match official. With no big screen available, the paying public were left to guess what Doyle and the TMO Trevor Fisher might be discussing. Call it something out of the in-the-dark ages.

Cipriani can't prevent Rokoduguni crashing over to put Bath out of sight

Ford’s 50-metre penalty for a 19-13 lead was evidence of kicking practice with Bath’s skills advisor Darren Edwards that the assistant coach Toby Booth said is founded on “quality, not quantity”.

It was overhauled by Sale when Mark Easter finished a series of pick-and-goes for a try in the 66th minute, converted by Cipriani, but Ford’s lovely dart for Rokoduguni’s 72nd-minute try was decisive. “George is a top player,” said Diamond, whose day was not improved by Dan Braid and Mark Cueto hobbling off with lower-leg injuries.