Sale fizz has Bath feeling flat

Sale 19 - Bath 10
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The Independent Online

Well before half-time Sale had left their imprint on this sparkling match with all the certainty an artist signs a painting. Had Charlie Hodgson not been in such indifferent form, missing with four shots at goal from six attempts, Sale would surely have gained a bonus point and won by a much bigger margin in front of a capacity crowd of 10,541 at Edgeley Park.

In the second half - at least until the final 10 minutes - Sale were unable to reproduce the effervescence they demonstrated before the interval, despite the best efforts of Sebastien Chabal and the outstanding John Carter to breach Bath's stubborn defence, or do much about Bath's facility for slowing the game to a walking pace at the breakdown.

Sale's director of rugby, Philippe Saint Andre, said: "We showed today that we can be competitive with the best teams in England, and while I was pleased that our forwards matched Bath's terrific pack, it is very frustrating when you want to play a quick game and the referee does nothing about players who continually kill the ball."

Given time, the Frenchman will soon forget Bath's delaying tactics and content himself with a reflection on how Sale cut Bath apart with tries from Chris Mayor, Mark Cueto and Carter.

Before kick-off the Bath head coach, John Connolly, was pacing up and down the pitch, giving a passable impression of a man with a lot on his mind. With Olly Barkley failing a late fitness test with back problems, Connolly was obliged to bring the 19-year-old Ryan Davis in for his Premiership debut, who marked the occasion by scoring Bath's only try. But that delight has to be tempered by the disappointment that his side knew only one way to play it yesterday. With a line-out as secure as any, and a pack who will drive the ball up the middle all day, without Barkley's creativity they lack the guile and craft to go with their graft.

Sale were unfazed by Bath's notional forward superiority and with the home front row giving as good as they received there was invariably a solid platform off which to give the ball plenty of width.

In Cueto's score Sale encapsulated in a flash the difference in handling skills between the two sides, Baxendell's slick pass deceiving all but Cueto. When it was time for the Sale forwards to make a point, Carter crossed to make it 19-3 to Sale.

As Connolly said: "At half-time we looked out of it, but when we got it back to 19-10 with 20 minutes to go I still thought we were in with a chance." Sale thought otherwise.

Sale: Tries Mayor, Cueto, Carter; Conversions Hodgson 2. Bath: Try Davis; Conversion Malone Penalty Malone.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, J Baxendell, R Todd, S Hanley (C Mayor, 8-18; h-t); C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan, S Bruno (A Titterrell, 68), B Stewart, C Day, D Schofield, J White, J Carter, S Chabal.

Bath: M Perry (T Cheeseman, 12-18); A Higgins (J Maddock, 8), F Welsh, R Davis, B Daniel; C Malone, N Walshe; D Barnes, J Humphreys (L Mears, 38), D Bell (M Stevens, h-t), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, A Beattie, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 60), I Feaunati.

Referee: S Lander (Cheshire).