Sale Sharks kicked off their new Rugby Union Aviva Premiership season this past weekend and saw them going down 20-29 to Bath at the AJ Bell Stadium in what was a tough loss.
The Hosts got off to the worse possible start as they found themselves 7-0 down inside the opening minute of the contest, after a crossfield kick by the visitors fly-half George Ford saw Anthony Watson take the ball and plant it down for a try to see the West Country outfit getting out of the traps first.
In the opening quarter of an hour of the game it was mainly Bath in control and the home side fell foul of some questionable decisions by the match official as well as some ill-discipline by the Sharks too. Bath in all fairness was the much stronger side from the outset and was out working the hosts in almost all departments.
George Ford converted a penalty for Bath that saw them pulling away at 10-0 and Sale were shell-shocked in the early part of the game. Things almost got worse for them soon after when the visitors thought they had a second try, only to be overruled by the TMO for a knock-on and much to the relief of the home side.
The Sharks lacked urgency, guile and creativity to their play as they got drawn into a kicking battle for positioning, in which they seemed to lack belief in their running game and continued on with the back and forth tactical kicking which led to the visitors gaining the upper hand and compounding it with errors too by Sale, as it wasn’t the start Steve Diamond envisiaged for his side.
Sale did show some glimpses of their attacking threat, however it seemed to fizzle out pretty quickly with them knocking-on or when getting into dangerous areas and having Bath in trouble.
Bath looked pretty solid and very well drilled in their play as they were skinning the Sharks alive in lots of aspects in the game and that saw them increase their lead to 13-0 thanks to the boot of Ford again.
Dom Dale was then lucky to escape a red card card for the away side, after his high and late hit on Danny Cipriani saw JP Doyle showing the Bath man a yellow card instead of the red variety and sat out the next ten minutes of play.
Cipriani though picked himself up and got his wits about him, before sending his kick through the uprights for the first points of the season for Sale and get a foot in the game. That late hit seemed to serve as a wake up call to Sale, whom at the restart saw Cipriani’s kick won back by the home side through some great work by Marc Jones and Eifion Lewis-Roberts, as the Sharks pack ploughed towards the away side try line and had them conceeding a penalty.
After a couple of attempts to get the five metre scrum put-in finefor the referee, the Sharks pack then pushed on and could sense blood and led to Mark Jennings going over to get the home side back in the game and just three points behind.
With Bath just trying to run down the clock on Dale’s penalty, it had the Sale natives restless with their tactics and when Ford restored the six point lead for the visitors with the boot, it just made the home fans more agitated.
Dale returned to the field of play to boos by the Sharks fans and that was soon drowned out by the cheers, when Cipriani kicked a penalty over from infront of the sticks to go into the break trailing by three and lucky it wasn’t more at 13-10 down.
In the second forty, Sale suffered a big injury blow when former England International Mark Cueto suffering a bizarre injury as the Sharks man collected a kick down field, and then when he dashed up towards the halfway line he then crumbled in a heap on the pitch grabbing his ankle and saw the ball go loose straight to a Bath player, before an opposing player checked up on him as he lay on the deck clutching his ankle and in a great deal of discomfort.
George Ford was unstoppable with the boot as the kicker converted another penalty to see him kick five consecutive kicks in a row and was one reason Bath excelled in the match, to see a scoreline of 19-13 in favour of the opponents. Sale then went through a purple patch as they started exploit the gaps in the Bath defence and led to Mark Easter scoring Sale’s second try of the game to see the Sharks go ahead in the game for the first time 20-19, with the referee confirming with the TMO to award the try in the 65th minute.
It almost got even better for Sale when some brilliant ball handling and quick passing down the left flank led to Michael Paterson fending off tackles and racing for the line, only to be called back by the referee for a forward pass and had Sale fans and players gutted.
Bath struck right back though five minutes later, as Sale got opened up and had Semesa Rokoduguni head for the corner crashing over for a try to give the visitors the lead back for a 26-20 score, with Ford adding the extras.
Sale tried to find a response to going behind again, but instead their ill-discipline and urgency ran them into penalty trouble and who else but George Ford put the final nail in Sharks coffin, as his kick sailed over to make it 29-20 and seen Bath victors in the opening weekend. Sale will rue the passages of play that saw them unable to take advantage of possession they had at certain times, especially when they had the extra man.
For Bath they put in a good team performance and over ran Sale for most periods, but their defense came up big during a wobbly time in the second half when they went behind. But they found a way to battle on and come on top.
Tries: Jennings, Easter
Cons: 2x Cipriani
Pens: 2x Cipriani
Tries: Watson, Rokodunguni
Cons: 2x Ford
Pens: 5x Ford