Bath’s new multi-millionaire owner Bruce Craig left the Recreation Ground a happy man after watching his side claim a bonus-point 34-15 victory over Sale.
Bath scored five tries and have a mathematical chance of making the Guinness Premeirship play-offs, while Sale’s main focus is now on their home game with Newcastle next Friday when they finally can end their relegation worries.
Bath welcomed back Springbok number eight Luke Watson from injury and gave Matt Carraro a run ahead of Shontayne Hape at outside centre. Danny Grewcock teamed up with Stuart Hooper in the second row. Sale’s plans were disrupted when Charlie Hodgson pulled out with a virus, to be replaced by Richard Wigglesworth.
That meant the visitors began the game without a recognised goalkicker, as Wigglesworth demonstrated when he hooked a penalty attempt after just three minutes.
The left-footed Wigglesworth missed a second penalty on 14 minutes, this time slicing his kick badly. At the other end, Bath continued to spill the ball and fire passes to no-one in particular until Olly Barkley put his side ahead on 18 minutes with a simple penalty.
Danny Grewcock then set up a catch and drive from a line-out and Lions hooker Lee Mears peeled off the maul to score the first try after 25 minutes. Barkley added the conversion.
Sale’s discipline was beginning to unravel under the pressure and skipper Dean Schofield was given a warning after one too many penalties. Bath immediately increased their lead to 17-0 when Barkley looped outside Carraro to score by the posts, also adding the conversion.
Wigglesworth pulled back three points on the stroke of half-time but Bath went 24-3 in front immediately after the break when Matt Banahan burst through the tackle of Marika Vakacegu and Barkley again kicked the conversion.
On 50 minutes, Joe Maddock stepped past four defenders to earn a bonus point for the home team but Vakacegu made amends for his earlier lapse by combining with Mathew Tait and Chris Jones to send Ben Cohen in for a score at the other end.
Mindful of the need to protect their resources ahead of Tuesday night’s rearranged match with Northampton, Bath rang the changes among the replacements and Sale took advantage of the disruption to force their way into Bath territory. But they could not take advantage and Bath reorganised to create a close-range try for prop David Barnes.
Barkley’s conversion hit the post but Bath were out of sight, although number eight Kris Ormsby grabbed a second try for the visitors in the 77th minute, converted by Wigglesworth.