With boot, brawn and brains Danny Cipriani repaid the faith put in him by Steve Diamond by producing a scintillating all-round display to help Sale Sharks upset Bath Rugby at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Andy Forsyth’s first-half try – cancelling out an earlier Semesa Rokoduguni score – and 14 points from Cipriani’s boot were enough to hand the Sharks their third Aviva Premiership win of the season.
Sale threatened the Bath try-line right from the start after a quick turnover had them attacking five metres out but a knock-on put an end to a promising attack.
Referee Andrew Small came back for an earlier penalty, however, to give Cipriani the opportunity to put Sale ahead but his effort sailed just wide of the uprights.
Bath responded with a few bruising phases of play themselves and when they were awarded a penalty it was George Ford this time who couldn’t convert from the kicking tee.
Sale went ahead on 11 minutes through Cipriani, the fly-half dropping into the pocket and nailing a drop-goal having realised his side’s attack was petering out.
The visitors took the lead just a minute later, however, as Peter Stringer found Rokoduguni on the blind-side of a strong Bath scrum and the wing flew past three Sale defenders to score.
Ford added the conversion to give his side a 7-3 advantage before Leroy Houston was forced off with a shoulder injury just 15 minutes into the game.
His replacement, Alafoti Fa’osiliva, almost made an immediate impact as he barrelled through several challenges and was only denied on the line as the TMO concluded he had a foot in touch before grounding the ball.
The big Samoan stole the loose ball following a Sale line-out and raced from inside his own half to the try-line, steamrolling Phil MacKenzie in the process, but was denied by a fantastic tackle from Cipriani who managed to get him in touch.
The home side then had a spell of sustained pressure inside the Bath half and after their forwards had made some meaningful gains up to the 22 a penalty for offside allowed Cipriani to put his side within one point of their opponents.
Steve Diamond’s side retook the lead on the half-hour after a brilliant driving maul forced Bath to commit numbers to stem its advance and allowed Forsyth to score in the corner.
With numbers outside to the left, the ball was sprung to Cipriani who combined with Mark Cueto to release Forsyth to touch down in the corner – Cipriani making a tough conversion for 13-7.
Ford and Cipriani then traded penalties as the interval approached and at half-time it was Sale who went in the happier with a 16-10 lead at the break.
They soon extended their advantage in the second-half again through the ever-improving boot of Cipriani who landed a monster 47-metre kick, while Ford missed his first attempt after half-time.
The 20-year-old made amends shortly afterwards though, cutting into Sale’s lead with a penalty on 56 minutes – a lead that could have been cut even further after Michael Paterson saw yellow three minutes later.
Paterson played the ball illegally with his foot on the floor, giving Ford a chance to turn proceedings into a three-point game but again he was wayward from just right of centre.
A sharp interchange from young full-back Ollie Devoto and Tom Biggs almost had the latter crossing down in the right corner on 67 minutes, but some dogged defending from Sale ultimately forced Bath into a mistake.
After Cipriani had missed a penalty six minutes from time, Bath and Ford decided to kick for the corner when they were awarded a penalty with just three minutes remaining.
After their attack broke down however, a break from Cueto and some excellent work at the breakdown from MacKenzie gave Sale the chance to seal the points with a penalty.
And although replacement Joe Ford saw his effort come back off the posts, Bath couldn’t build another attack and a knock-on brought an end to the game.