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Late Annett try sends Bath to the final for first time since 2015

By Liam Heagney
Bath's Ted Hill celebrates Beno Obano's try (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

This was wicked, a belter of a semi-final where the fireworks ignited were even more entertaining than the epic drama that unfolded the previous evening when Northampton dethroned the champions Saracens in a 22-20 helter-skelter.

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In the end, this second semi came down to a training ground play that Bath would have executed time and time again out at Farleigh.

Having led from the fourth minute, they had fallen behind when sucker punched by a wonderfully opportunistic Tom O’Flaherty counter-attacking finish, but they were back in the lead by a point when the contest was decisively decided by a converted Niall Annett try six minutes from the finish.

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How The Rec faithful celebrated, their 31-23 win proving a red rag to the bull that is Jonny Hill, the unavailable Sale lock who got himself involved in an unsavory altercation after full-time in the main stand.

That left a sour taste following a gripping contest that ebbed and flowed before ending with a Finn Russell-inspired Bath qualifying for their first final since 2015.

Fixture
Gallagher Premiership
Bath
31 - 23
Full-time
Sale
All Stats and Data

The exchanges were gladiatorial from the beginning and it was the eagle-eyed referee Luke Pearce who allowed the hosts to open the scoring on four minutes through a Russell penalty, spotting that Joe Cokanasiga was illegally bumped by Bevan Rodd and Cobus Wiese when galloping after a Ben Spencer Garryowen from halfway.

Seven minutes later, the opening try followed. A fantastic meaty carry from the rampaging Ted Hill was the genesis and after a secondary advance from Russell, the menacing Spencer lofted a kick that produced a bounce deceptive to the Sale defence but perfect for Hill, who had stayed out wide, to score.

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We’d like to say we watched it all unfold but such are the restricted sight lines at The Rec, it was the cheering main stand crowd in the right-hand corner that had the exclusive view of Hill doing the business. Fair play to them. Russell was wide with the conversion but the hosts were eight points up and looking promising.

A blip followed, though, when they got themselves into an offside muddle when a Spencer kick was blocked on halfway. The infringement allowed George Ford to kick to the corner and after Ernst van Rhyn took the catch, Ben Curry was driven over for an unconverted score.

Bath weren’t ruffled. A peach of a Will Muir 50:22 kick resulted in Ollie Lawrence and Alfie Barbeary making valuable inroads following the lineout and when the forwards then camped at the line near the posts, Beno Obano burrowed over and Russell converted for 15-5.

The exchanges were now fizzing. Just when Sale were celebrating a penalty for a no-release from a bottled-up Russell, a cleanout from Sam Dugdale on Barbeary on halfway came to the attention of the officials, resulting in the penalty being reversed and Russell showing chutzpah to land the resulting kick and stretch the margin to 13 points.

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What now for Sale? Well, quite an exhibition of character. A belting Lawrence tackle soon denied O’Flaherty from lodging a riposte in the corner but there was no denying Tommy Taylor on 34 minutes from making it over off a driving maul.

Ford’s successful extras further cut the gap and then when Sam Underhill couldn’t resist illegally playing the ball at a ruck, Ford was back on the tee to land the penalty that left it 18-15 in a half that ended with Sale’s confidence further enflamed by winning a scrum penalty on their 22.

Five minutes after the restart, the scrum was again the talking point after a Barbeary spill. Obano collapsed, Ford levelled with the ensuing kick from the 10-metre line and before Russell could launch his restart, Tom Curry was intriguingly sent into the fray for his first match since England’s bronze medal win last October at the Rugby World Cup.

He was immediately under the pump with his pals, part of the pack that collapsed a maul and invited Russell to score Bath’s first points since the 27th minute. Back came Sale, Cokanasiga’s fumble igniting a counter from halfway involving three players before a delicious Joe Carpenter kick bounced sweetly for the scoring O’Flaherty.

That unconverted try put Sale in the lead for the first time, 23-21, and the exchanges ratcheted up even further from here. Chicanery at the ruck from sub Agustin Creevy was the reason Russell was confidently kicking Bath back into the lead on 66 minutes from the 10-metre.

Despite narrowly missing with a cheeky long-range drop goal and then a penalty after a Matt Gallagher aerial catch was the prompt for an offside, Bath didn’t flinch and after a lineout was won deep in Sale territory, sub Annett was gleefully touching down for the try that Russell added polish to and make it a two-score, 31-23 game.

That margin of comfort ignited wild Bath celebrations. Twickenham, here they come.

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