Bath moved into the play-off places at the expense of Bristol Bears after an impressive 37-22 triumph over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium. Sale went into the weekend in second but this result, combined with Wasps’ triumph over Bristol, means that the Sharks slip down to fourth with the Bears a place further adrift.
Steve Diamond’s men opened the game well and went in front thanks to Rohan Janse Van Rensburg’s score, but the West Country outfit responded brilliantly.
Ruaridh McConnochie levelled matters before Rhys Priestland kicked a penalty and Ben Spencer crossed the whitewash to give Stuart Hooper’s outfit a 10-point buffer.
That would be reduced early in the second period as Jean-Luc Du Preez touched down before AJ MacGinty added a penalty, but Bath were clinical and effectively sealed the win via successive Priestland penalties and Spencer’s second try.
Dan Du Preez did briefly give the Sharks hope of a losing bonus point but Jonathan Joseph went over late on to seal the full five for the visitors.
Despite the end result, it was the Sharks that began the brighter in Salford, going 7-0 ahead with just three minutes on the clock.
Since regaining his place in the XV from Rob Du Preez, MacGinty has been superb and the USA international was the architect of the try. The fly-half dummied, got his hands free and found the rampaging Van Rensburg, who shrugged off the attentions of several would-be tacklers to touch down.
Sale continued to control matters and had the opportunity to extend their advantage, but MacGinty’s penalty attempt was wide and they would pay for that profligacy.
With their first real attack, the visitors constructed an excellent score as they moved the ball through several phases. Wide passes over the top of narrow Sharks defence kept them on the front foot and McConnochie eventually burst through to cross the whitewash unopposed.
The West Countrymen were also proving effective in the maul and their pressure forced Jono Ross into a cynical infringement. The captain was sin-binned for a trip and, from the resultant three-point attempt, Priestland moved Hooper’s men into the lead.
With their opponents down to 14 men, Bath took advantage and manufactured another try as a bullet pass sent Joseph clear. The England man chipped over the top and Spencer was the player to grab hold of the ball and touch down.
It was thoroughly deserved and a lead they would take into the interval, but they were thankful to a brilliant last-gasp tackle from McConnochie. MacGinty and Tom Curry had combined superbly with the former looking set to score, but the England hopeful enhanced his reputation by bringing down the pivot.
Hooper was looking for more of the same from his side and they continued to defend valiantly, but they were beginning to come under pressure.
Faf De Klerk was getting a supply of quick ball and the hosts thought they had scored through Marland Yarde, but play was brought back following a forward pass by Akker Van Der Merwe.
Despite that rearguard effort, Bath were eventually breached as the Sharks once again went through the phases. Replacement Dan Du Preez made a significant incursion before his brother finished the move after MacGinty had sent him through a gap.
Sale’s pivot missed the conversion but was successful with a three-pointer moments later to reduce the arrears further. However, Priestland almost immediately restored Bath’s buffer with one of his own off the tee and then slotted another to increase their lead to eight.
With Rob Webber yellow carded for the cynical indiscretion which led to that penalty, the West Country outfit were in command and they secured a hugely impressive victory when Spencer intercepted Yarde’s pass and touched down.
Dan du Preez did go over late on for the Sharks but it proved to be mere consolation as Bath deservedly had the final word through Joseph.
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