Nick Abendanon’s first-half try helped Bath to underline their Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off credentials with a hard-fought victory at struggling Sale.
Abendanon, one of 12 players released from the England squad back to their clubs earlier this week, scampered over from close range in the 34th minute and Olly Barkley weighed in with a conversion and four penalties.
Sale, whose relegation fears were reawakened by this defeat, lacked nothing in spirit and fashioned a well-worked score from former England wing Ben Cohen shortly before half-time. Yet despite the presence of Charlie Hodgson, they lacked the guile to overturn Bath’s 13-7 lead after the restart and also suffered two first-half injury blows as Lee Imiolek hobbled off and wing Crane was carried off on a stretcher.
With South African fly-half Butch James back in the side after missing last weekend’s LV= Cup win over Leicester because he was getting married, Bath were full of ideas in midfield. They led through an early penalty from Barkley and James soon produced a delightful crossfield kick which led to a period of sustained pressure on the Sale line which narrowly failed to bear fruit.
Sale lock James Gaskell and Bath prop Duncan Bell were soon squaring up to each other, which was indicative of the desire of both teams.
Light drizzle throughout made for handling errors aplenty but midway through the opening half, shortly after Sale had fashioned their most promising move of the game thus far, Barkley kicked another excellent long-range penalty to double Bath’s advantage.
Imiolek limped off in the 23rd minute and was replaced by Aston Croall, yet the momentum gradually swung in Sale’s favour as the half wore on as Hodgson came to the fore. However, they were dealt another blow in the 27th minute when Crane sustained a serious-looking injury and was carried off.
And Sale were hit by a sucker-punch six minutes before the break when Abendanon collected possession at the base of a scrum and scurried over from close range. Barkley converted but two minutes later Cohen was on hand to finish off a fine move orchestrated by Hodgson which stretched Bath down the left flank.
A visiting defender tried to haul Cohen into touch and looked to have succeeded until the video referee awarded the try after mulling over replays of the incident for several minutes.
Bath were content to soak up the pressure in the second half as tryscoring opportunities grew scarce. A penalty from Barkley gave the visitors further breathing space in the 65th minute and with seven minutes remaining Hodgson saw a three-pointer rebound off a post, thus denying Sale a valuable losing bonus point. Salt was rubbed into Sale’s wounds when Barkley kicked his fourth penalty with the final act of the game.