Bath Rugby got their Aviva Premiership play-off charge back on track as a dogged kicking performance from Tom Homer off the tee ensured Mike Ford’s men nicked a narrow win against Sale Sharks.
Homer kicked four penalties – he did miss a few in difficult conditions as well – as Bath ended a disastrous recent run of league form, with England hopeful Sam Burgess sparkling during the win.
Bath, who have now not scored a league try for over four hours, started like a team possessed and dominated possession and territory in the opening 20 minutes, with rugby league convert Burgess particularly prominent early on.
Mike Ford’s men have experienced a poor spell in the Aviva Premiership since Christmas, collecting ten points in the league from their last six games – only London Welsh have scored fewer, tumbling from second to fifth.
A host of players from Sale and Bath were looking to impress Stuart Lancaster ahead of next week’s England Six Nations squad announcement for the game with Scotland – namely Danny Cipriani, Henry Thomas and Kyle Eastmond – but it was West Country newboy Homer that sparkled early.
The Bath full-back missed an early kick at goal on 12 minutes – taking over the duties with George Ford away with England – but the former London Irish man redeemed himself four minutes later to make the score 3-0.
But for all the dominance, Bath should have been pegged back on 25 minutes as Cipriani – eager to put pressure on Ford for the England No.10 jersey – missed a kick to level the scores after an unfortunate slip.
Ahead of kick-off, just five points separated second-place Saracens from Sale in seventh but the North West outfit were unable to put pressure on the team’s chasing a play-off spot after a horror opening quarter.
Bath extended their lead on 28 minutes as Homer slotted his second penalty of the afternoon as Sale were penalised at scrum-time, compounding a collection of early errors for Sale.
Despite their poor recent form; Bath have only lost once at home in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season but they were pegged back on 30 minutes as Cipriani landed a long range penalty to make the score 6-3 after the home side were penalised for a high tackle.
Bath started to get the shove on at scrum-time, with Sale conceding a collection of quick penalties in the tight as they struggled to cope with the power and pace up front from the home team.
Bath should have gone further ahead three minutes before the break as Homer was handed an opportunity to stretch his side’s lead but the full-back was unable to nail his kick from a tight angle.
Sale looked like a completely different side after the break as they pressured the Bath line in the opening minutes of the second half.
With a penalty already awarded; Sale prop Vadim Cobias attempted an ambitious drop goal effort that failed to even get off the floor.
Wayne Barnes took the Sharks back for a penalty, Cipriani turned down the very kickable goal and opted for the corner instead but Sale were unable to make the lineout pay close to the line and Bath cleared the danger.
A Semesa Rokoduguni break – he side-stepped England veteran Mark Cueto – took Bath into Sale territory on 54 minutes and after a series of phases, Sharks flanker Magnus Lund was penalised for not using his arms in the tackle and Homer stroked over the resulting penalty to stretch his side’s lead to 9-3.
As Sale began to tire in the final 20 minutes, the penalty count started to mount and Homer should have added to his side’s tally on the hour mark but he missed a straightforward effort at the posts in ever-worsening conditions.
Homer redeemed himself on 65 minutes as he landed his fourth penalty of the game, he set his kick along way left and allowed the wind to take it through the posts to make the score 12-3.
Sale tried to find a way back into the game in the closing stages but in a strong wind Bath kept the Sharks firmly back in their own half with a series of clever kicks into space.
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