Danny Cipriani kicked all the points as Sale Sharks completed the Aviva Premiership double over Bath Rugby – prevailing 12-11 at the Rec to edge closer to the top four.
The Sharks chalked up a sixth win in seven matches, inflicted Bath’s second straight home Premiership defeat in the process, to move within three points of the play-off spots.
Leicester Tigers have a game in hand but the Sharks are just four behind Bath, and reaffirmed their play-off credentials, following last weekend’s victory over Northampton Saints.
Ross Batty rounded off a lengthy period of home pressure with a 75th-minute try but George Ford, who endured a difficult night from the tee, missed the conversion.
Sale began with the confidence of a team that had won five of their last six matches, winning the territorial battle in the first half with Cipriani pulling the strings.
And the visitors opened the scoring on seven minutes when Bath prop Paul James was penalised – Cipriani expertly slotting the penalty.
Bath didn’t have to wait long to level things up however and Ford responded in kind on 12 minutes when Sale went offside following a fine run from full-back Nick Abendanon, playing in his 200th match for the club.
Handling errors punctuated the first half – Abendanon guilty himself – but it was Sale who retook the lead on 18 minutes following a high tackle from Matt Garvey on Sharks hooker Marc Jones.
Cipriani was again on target and four minutes later they were further ahead after Bath buckled at scrum time and the Sale fly-half nailed his penalty for 9-3.
The home side responded and but for a knock-on, Anthony Watson looked well placed to score the first try of the game while Bath’s other winger, Semesa Rokoduguni threatened down the right but ran out of room.
Ford trimmed the deficit to three points on 32 minutes at the end of a spell of Bath pressure but the England fly-half could not pull the scores level just before half-time when Dave Seymour was penalised at the breakdown.
Bath began the second half with urgency but it was Sale who were next on the scoresheet when the hosts were penalised for coming off their feet at the ruck – Cipriani maintaining his 100 per cent record from the tee for 12-6.
Errors started to creep in for Sale and on 56 minutes Ford had another chance to reduce the gap to three but he was uncharacteristically wild and the visitors remained six points to the good.
Bath were dominating territory however and when Dwayne Peel was driven back over his line, the hosts had a series of scrums five metres out – the last of which saw Leroy Houston pick up and drive for the line.
Referee Dean Richards consulted the TMO but the try was not awarded, instead the scrum battle resumed.
It was a long drawn out battle and while Mr Richards awarded Bath a number of penalties – and sent Sale replacement prop Henry Thomas to the sin bin – the hosts could find no way through.
The respite for Sale was short-lived however and Bath continued to knock on the visitors’ door but with the rain hammering down, they could not prise the Sharks open.
With six minutes to go, Bath were awarded a penalty but Ford turned down a kick at goal and a minute later they finally had their breakthrough when Batty forced his way over at the back of a driving maul.
Ford missed the conversion however and he saw two of his late drop goal attempts miss the target as the Sharks held firm to seal a crucial victory in their pursuit of the top four.