A drop goal two minutes from time by Chris Malone earned Bath a precious GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP win to kick-start Christmas celebrations on the Rec.
Malone scored all 18 points as the only try of the game went to Sale’s Chris Bell on the stroke of half-time.
In the end though the visitors were visibly showing the effect of a mere five-day break since their hard-earned Heineken Cup win over Stade Francais.
Having collected another clutch of injuries in that bruising tie the last thing they needed was a trip to the West Country so soon afterwards.
In foggy, cold conditions the first chance fell to Malone on five minutes after Sebastien Chabal was caught lifting an opponent’s leg in a driving mall.
The Bath fly-half missed his penalty from 40 metres and opposite number Lee Thomas had no better luck with a longer effort three minutes later.
The offender on that occasion was Bath’s debutant prop Jon Dawson, a short-term signing from Cambridge University after starring in the Varsity match.
But that was his last significant contribution in this game before he limped off with a knee strain on 14 minutes, adding to Bath’s list of injury-hit props.
It was Sale’s scrummage that let them down and Chabal’s wayward pass nearly let Joe Maddock in for a try.
Sale did concede a penalty however and Malone opened the scoring from close range in the 16th minute.
With both sides struggling to control the ball much of the play was a scrap for possession.
When Bath infringed at a ruck on 25 minutes Thomas levelled the scores from 40 metres but Bath restored the lead almost immediately through Malone’s boot after Eliota Fuimaono stretched the Sale defence almost to breaking point.
Sale were embarrassed again when the impressive Chev Walker barrelled through at outside centre but referee Ashley Rowden this time sent Chabal to the sin-bin before signalling Malone’s third successful penalty on the half hour.
The visitors saw two drop-goal attempts by their full-back Daniel Larrachea sail wide before Thomas launched a perfect Garry Owen on the stroke of half-time.
Bath full-back Nick Abendanon failed to gather and the ball fell loose to Bell who raced 35 metres to the posts for Thomas to convert for a 10-9 half-time lead.
The fly-half put Sale further ahead on 34 minutes after Bath infringed at a ruck and he made it 16-9 five minutes later as Sale continued to capitalise on Bath errors.
Olly Barkley came off the bench to replace Abendanon at full-back and there was a greater urgency about Bath’s approach but Malone missed a straightforward kick on 55 minutes.
Fortunately the next opportunity was rather easier and the fly-half then added a fifth penalty five minutes later to reduce Sale’s lead to a single point.
The last 10 minutes saw all-out attack from Bath and although Malone fluffed another penalty attempt he was very much on target with the decisive drop goal.