Bath back in the winning groove

Published: Friday 6th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Bath recorded their first Aviva Premiership victory for almost two months as they moved second in the table behind runaway leaders Northampton after subduing Recreation Ground visitors Sale 12-3.

Full-back Tom Homer kicked four penalties to halt Bath’s worrying Premiership losing run that had seen them suffer successive defeats against play-off rivals Saracens, Saints and Exeter.

For large parts of a dour encounter Bath looked short on confidence, yet Homer inched them to a 12-3 victory by punishing Sale’s set-piece indiscipline.

Fly-half Danny Cipriani landed a first-half penalty for Sale, but their failure to secure even a losing bonus point delivered fading play-off hopes another major blow six days after being dismantled by Leicester.

When Bath resume Premiership action against hapless London Welsh later this month, they will do so buoyed by returning England men George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Dave Attwood.

And compared to some teams around them in a congested play-off picture, Bath’s Premiership run-in does not appear – on paper at least – to be anywhere near as difficult.

It was an occasion when the result meant far more than the performance, and while Bath are currently nowhere near the exhilarating free-flowing sight they have resembled several times this season, four points were still collected.

Bath showed a number of changes from the side beaten by Exeter last time out, with scrum-half Chris Cook, prop Henry Thomas and flanker Matt Garvey among those players recalled as the west country club targeted their first Premiership victory since beating Wasps in mid-January.

Cipriani’s return was the headline selection in a Sale team that still harboured play-off ambitions, while two switches up-front following an emphatic defeat at Tigers six days ago saw starts for hooker Tommy Taylor and flanker David Seymour.

Bath made the early running, using Garvey and centre Sam Burgess as prominent ball-carriers, and Homer landed an opening penalty strike after 14 minutes that rewarded their territorial dominance.

But Bath also suffered an early injury blow when Thomas, who was on England bench duty against Ireland in Dublin last weekend, departed with what appeared to be a shoulder problem.

It added to the home team’s front-row injury worries, with Thomas fellow international props Paul James and David Wilson both currently sidelined, and meant an early appearance for Kane Palma-Newport.

Cipriani missed a golden chance to put Sale level, but his straightforward 24th-minute penalty chance went astray when he slipped on contact with the ball, and the kick drifted wide.

Sale full-back Mike Haley then dropped the restart to compound Sharks’ frustration, and Homer doubled Bath’s advantage after referee Wayne Barnes, who was making his 150th Premiership appearance, awarded a penalty following a scrum offence.

Cipriani then made amends for his miss by bisecting the posts from 48 metres, and despite Bath looking to turn the screw up-front as half-time approached, they were frustrated by a combination of their own errors and resilient Sale defence.

A 6-3 interval advantage was scant reward for Bath’s territorial dominance, but Sale remained firmly in the contest ahead of a key second 40 minutes for both clubs.

And the visitors took early charge of the second period, camping inside Bath’s 22, yet their hopes of an opening try were denied when centre Johnny Leota was penalised for crossing in midfield.

It was a reprieve for Bath, and frustrations boiled over when home skipper Stuart Hooper and Sale lock Nathan Hines were involved in an off-the-ball skirmish before Homer gained a fifth penalty chance, and he completed his hat-trick to secure a six-point advantage.

Homer then extended Bath’s lead to nine points, and there was no way back for Sale as the home side comfortably closed matters out.

Published: Friday 6th March 2015 by The News Editor

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