George Ford was Bath Rugby’s hero from the tee as they battled to a dominant victory over Sale Sharks to move up into second in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
In a first period of end-to-end action, it was Bath who took the early lead as man of the match Matt Banahan crossed over the whitewash to become the first player in blue, black and white to score 50 Aviva Premiership Rugby tries.
Ford ensured Bath would take a comfortable lead into the second-half with an inspired performance from the tee, one that was sure to attract the attention of an onlooking Eddie Jones in the crowd.
But the Sharks could find no answer in the second half as scores from Kahn Fotuali’I and Kane Palma-Newport put the game out of their reach in front of a record crowd at the Rec, to ensure Bath head into the European break with in fine form.
It took just three minutes for the hosts to break the deadlock through Banahan as he crashed over in the corner from five metres following a flowing move from the centre, before Ford buried the conversion.
It didn’t take long, however, for Sale to get some points on the board, Will Addison kicking a penalty from the tee after Bath were penalised for offside.
Bath looked to be heading for their second try ten minutes before the break when Kahn Fotuali’i stole the ball in the host’s own half, gifting the ball to Jonathan Joseph who stormed up the left wing, only to run out of steam some way from the line.
But it didn’t take long for Todd Blackadder’s men to boost their tally, Ford adding three more points from the tee following a Sale knock-on to restore Bath’s lead to seven going into the interval.
Ford continued his fine kicking form into the second half, opening up a ten-point gap in the scoreline with a penalty from 37 metres.
Addison had an immediate opportunity to reduce the deficit when Bath’s Tom Dunn was penalised for not rolling away from the scrum, but the No.14 steered his effort wide of the posts, much to the delight of the Rec faithful.
It was a missed chance the Sharks would later come to rue as Ford made it four from four from the tee with the easiest of penalties, after Aulika’s late challenge on Dave Attwood gave the referee no option.
And from there the Bath rampage began, scrum-half Fotuali’i scoring his first try in Bath colours after intercepting the ball in his own half and strolling over the line.
Just minutes later, the hosts hit the 30-point mark as Palma-Newport threw a cheeky sidestep before placing the ball down for Bath’s third try of the encounter.
Bath continued to push for the bonus point as the clock continued to wind down, but it didn’t matter as they sealed a fine victory, ensuring they continue to snap on the heels of Saracens and Wasps at the top of the pile.