Bath kickstarted their season at the third attempt with a hard-fought 25-12 victory over Sale to record their first Guinness Premiership win at Edgeley Park in six years.
Steve Meehan’s men arrived in Stockport bottom of the table after dismal defeats to Gloucester and Wasps but they dug deep to record their first triumph of the season. Australian centre Matt Carraro (two) and Matt Banahan touched down for Bath, who were forced to hold on in the closing stages after Banahan and replacement Andy Beattie were sinbinned.
Meehan was furious after witnessing a 17-15 home defeat to Wasps last weekend, which followed a 24-5 loss at Gloucester six days previously. He therefore axed Centre Tom Cheeseman, fly-half Ryan Davis, prop David Flatman, lock Stuart Hooper and flanker Andy Beattie from his starting line-up on duty at Edgeley Park.
Jack Cuthbert, Nicky Little, Peter Short and Jonny Faamatuainu were among those players who gained opportunities, while wing Matt Carraro moved into midfield alongside Shontayne Hape.
Sale were again missing talismanic fly-half Charlie Hodgson due to a toe injury sustained during the opening game against Leicester a fortnight ago. Number 10 duties remained with in-form Welshman Lee Thomas while full-back Nick Macleod returned to the starting XV, with centre Chris Bell replacing Andy Tuilagi and Chris Jones featuring at number eight.
Sale began strongly and threatened inside the fourth minute when Mathew Tait embarked on fine run down the left flank which almost put Bell in. Bath conceded a penalty which Thomas converted with ease but the visitors responded impressively and drew level four minutes later when Sale conceded a penalty and Little converted from 40 metres out.
The pendulum swung back in Sale’s favour in the 12th minute when a fine handling move saw the ball worked out to the right flank but Mark Cueto was denied by some desperate defending. Sale maintained the pressure, however, and after Bath were caught offside Thomas added his second penalty to make it 6-3. When the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 15th minute, Thomas tried his luck from 65 metres but his effort fell short.
Bath full-back Cuthbert then failed from distance with a penalty attempt in the 20th minute and, after Thomas extended Sale in the 23rd minute, another penalty from Little reduced the gap to three points.
On the half-hour mark, Carraro burst into life when he collected a pass from Little and handed off Ben Cohen with ease and crossed the line. Little kicked the conversion to make it 9-13 to the visitors but Banahan took advantage of some weak Sale defending to charge his way over the line in the 44th minute.
Little missed the conversion but five minutes later Bath had their third try when Shontayne Hape sent Carraro bursting clear. Little added the extras but Sale came back when Thomas added his fourth penalty.
The pressure was on Bath in the closing stages when Banahan was sinbinned for a high challenge on Cueto and Beattie soon followed for killing the ball. Yet Bath held on for a fine victory which lifts them off the foot of the Premiership.