Charlie Hodgson’s 13 points helped Sale Sharks defeat fellow play-off hopefuls Bath.
Kingsley Jones’ side moved to within two points of the West Country team, with fly-half Hodgson kicking two penalties and converting his own try. It enabled the Sharks to end a poor run of four successive GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeats to beat Steve Meehan’s men. England winger Mark Cueto made an immediate impact on his return to the team with a try for Sale, while Argentinian number eight Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe also crossed the whitewash.
Bath’s points came from the boot of Ryan Davis and a try from flanker Jonathon Faamatuainu – whose last-minute score earned his team a losing bonus point which edges them ahead of Harlequins and into the top four.
Forgotten England fly-half Hodgson certainly reminded Martin Johnson of his quality in tonight’s game at Stockport. The number 10 last played for his country in June but demonstrated he is back on top form by scoring a try and three goals as well as dominating proceedings with his kicking game and neat range of passing.
Hodgson and Cueto scored first-half tries as the Sharks opened up a 15-0 lead before Davis gradually clawed the visitors back into the match with a trio of successful penalties. Lobbe’s second-half try took Sale to the brink of victory before Faamatuainu ensured a nervous finish with a late score for the visitors.
With Bath and Harlequins five points ahead of them in fifth and fourth place respectively, the game had taken on must win status for Jones’ Sharks. Hodgson settled their nerves with a 50-metre penalty three minutes in and they never looked like surrendering the lead. Cueto then scooted round the outside and regained his feet after a Nick Abendanon ankle tap to scamper over in the corner to stretch the lead to 8-0, Hodgson failing with the conversion.
Davis fluffed the opportunity to put the visitors back in the contest with a 40-metre penalty before the Sharks increased the deficit thanks to two moments of brilliance in quick succession from Hodgson. The Sale number 10’s pinpoint crossfield kick caused the visitors to turn the ball over on their own line and he then took full advantage by jinking over under the posts from close range and adding the goal.
The visitors had their first real opportunity two minutes from half-time when Abendanon was floored inches from the line after he was released by a beautifully timed Davis pass. Davis’ close-range penalty at least ensured Bath did not leave the Sale quarter empty-handed and the score was 15-3 at half-time. A second Davis penalty soon after the interval reduced the deficit further only for Hodgson to restore the Sharks’ 12-point advantage with a close range penalty of his own on 51 minutes.
Another Davis penalty, bang in front of the posts from 40 metres, kept the visitors in contention before Cueto wasted the chance to score in the corner after slick hands from Hodgson and Lobbe down the right flank.
Sale were on the brink of their first victory in five matches with 12 minutes to go when a powerful close range forwards’ charge drove Lobbe over the line to score, Hodgson hitting the post with the conversion attempt. A close range dart to the line from Faamatuainu, converted by sub Jack Cuthbert, ensured a tense finale, but the Sharks held on for a crucial victory.