Fears that the meeting of the teams running second and third in the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership table would be a mismatch in Manchester on Saturday were proven correct as Sale Sharks needed just 32 minutes to grab the four-try bonus point against an understrength Bristol Bears.   

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Having thrown the majority of his first choices into last Tuesday’s home game versus leaders Exeter, a match dramatically lost in the closing minutes, Pat Lam opted to pull his team’s punches with his selection for the AJ Bell. 

With only Piers O’Conor and Ed Holmes remaining from the midweek loss, Lam selected nine Bristolians in a matchday squad featuring ten academy graduates – including Jack Bates who at 19 years and 95 days became the second-youngest player to start a Premiership game for Bristol since leagues were introduced in 1987.

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RugbyPass brings you The Bear Pit, the behind the scenes documentary on Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears

In contrast, Sale recalled World Cup finalists Faf de Klerk, Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi after they missed Tuesday’s win at Wasps while also restoring another from the 2019 final in Yokohama, Lood de Jager, to the starting line-up after he was on the Ricoh Stadium bench. 

What inevitably transpired was a ruthless first-half performance. Tries inside the opening ten minutes from Luke James and Denny Solomona got the show on the road for Sharks, who knew that a win would enable them to leapfrog Bristol on the table and move into second place.

Next came a score in the 17th minute from de Klerk and the try bonus point was then wrapped up eight minutes from the interval when Sam James got in. Bristol did strike back for a score before the break, Alapati Leiua snapping up an interception, but it was Sale who would have been far the happier side leading 26-7 at half-time. They went on to win 40-7, Luke James and Marland Yarde adding second-half tries.

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