Charlie Hodgson delivered another masterclass as Sale reaffirmed their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title credentials by despatching leaders Bath in dreadful conditions at Edgeley Park.
The playing surface is home to both Sale and Stockport County and has steadily deteriorated throughout the season, with incessant rain turning it into a quagmire for this encounter.
The match was only given the go-ahead after a pitch inspection 30 minutes before kick-off and it was Sale and Hodgson in particular who adapted far better.
The England fly-half bossed proceedings for Sale, landing 17 points with the boot and creating a first-half try for Spain wing Oriol Ripol with a typically well-judged crossfield kick.
Hodgson has found himself behind Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wikinson in the international pecking order but he continues to prove invaluable to his club and this success keeps the Sharks firmly in contention for a play-off berth.
Eyebrows were raised that the game even went ahead at all given the state of the sodden pitch. Indeed, large patches were completely saturated from early evening and rain continued to pour down from the first whistle.
Hodgson was not fazed in the slightest and it was his customary guile from behind the scrum which prevented an all-out war of attrition between the respective packs.
A typically well-struck penalty from the Yorkshireman got Sale off the mark in the third minute and he claimed his second five minutes later.
Hodgson gradually exerted his authority on proceedings with a steady stream of probing kicks which asked questions of Bath full-back Nick Abendanon.
Hodgson’s opposite number, Shane Berne, missed a penalty from distance for Bath but did not err again in the 14th minute as the visitors got off the mark.
There were handling errors aplenty from both sides – Abendanon knocked on to end a promising Bath counter-attack on half-way in the 21st minute – and the visitors were dealt another blow soon after when Berne was forced off after taking a heavy blow to the mouth.
He was replaced by Gloucester-bound Olly Barkley – another man with England ambitions at number 10 – but Hodgson remained prominent and a delightful drop-goal extended Sale’s shortly after the half-hour mark.
On the stroke of half-time he flighted a kick into the left-hand corner, behind Bath wing Andrew Higgins and inviting enough for Ripol to give chase.
Higgins caught the ball but inexplicably then dropped it, allowing Ripol the easiest of tasks to collect possession and ground with ease.
Hodgson added the extras with a brilliant touchline conversion but Barkley dragged Bath back into contention shortly after the restart with a routine penalty.
Yet the visitors showed little to suggest they could dominate enough to fashion a serious comeback and so it proved.
Hodgson added two further penalties before the hour mark to seal a victory which keeps Sale tucked in nicely behind the Premiership’s leading pack.