Bath survived two drop-goal attempts in the dying seconds from England fly-half Charlie Hodgson to snatch victory over Sale at the Recreation Ground.
Hodgson, left out of England’s World Cup squad by coach Brian Ashton because he lacked fitness, had steered Sale back into the game when it looked as if they were being overrun in the early stages of the match.
His inch-perfect tactical kicking and astute game management had kept Bath at bay and then helped his side turn the screw in the second half. He also kicked three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal – but it was not quite enough.
Bath hung on in the end, the winning score coming from fly-half Shaun Berne with a short-range penalty three minutes from time.
The west country club, still smarting at leaving Leicester without so much as a losing bonus point last weekend, brought in Michael Stephenson but fly-half Ryan Davies and skipper Zak Feaunati were missing so Berne moved inside to the number 10 spot and also assumed the captaincy.
Sale handed first starts of the season to Stuart Turner, Chris Bell and Richard Wigglesworth while David Tait came in on the open side.
Bath were quickest out of the blocks winning a penalty for off-side and Berne opting to kick for the corner. It was then a regulation catch-and-drive which earned Pieter Dixon a try converted by Berne on five minutes.
Hodgson missed a fairly straightforward kick at goal shortly afterwards and Bath were at their fluent best in conjuring a succession of sweeping backline moves before Matt Banahan stretched out an arm to score in the corner after 15 minutes.
Unfortunately for the 6ft 7ins wing he hurt himself in the process of scoring and went off to be replaced by Jack Cuthbert while Berne missed the conversion.
Hodgson then set about hauling Sale back into the game first with a penalty on 18 minutes and then with a 25th-minute drop goal.
When Oriol Ripol scooted over in 28 minutes, Hodgson banged over the conversion to put Sale 13-12 in front.
Bath full-back Stephenson was subjected to a barrage of high kicks from the fly-half but the home side recovered their composure. Flanker James Scaysbrook almost scored in the corner but they had to be content with another Berne penalty to turn around with a 15-13 lead.
Hodgson regained the initiative after the break with two penalties to establish a 19-15 advantage and, although Bath did set up a promising position, Berne spilled the chance.
The Australian made amends with a straightforward penalty after 58 minutes and, as Sale introduced a rash of replacements, the pressure began the build.
A smart handling move saw Cuthbert bundled into touch but Berne then fluffed a simple penalty chance.
With Andy Higgins running powerfully in the centre, Bath frantically looked for an opening but too often their handling skills let them down so they were relieved when Berne was awarded his final unmissable chance from in front of the post on 77 minutes and Hodgson could not quite find the target at the other end.