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Rare off day for Ford as Bath lose to Sale

Bath's George Ford misses a drop goal attempt with the last kick of the game. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

PREMIERSHIP

  • BATH 11 - 12 SALE SHARKS

In-form Sale snatched a typically gritty 12-11 victory at third-placed Bath to press their claims of an Aviva Premiership play-off place.

It was the Sharks' fifth win in the last six away games in all competitions and only Bath's second league defeat at home since December 2012.

Bath claimed a losing bonus point but are now in a three-way fight for third and fourth place with Leicester and the Sharks, lurking in fifth.

Sale's match-winner was fly-half Danny Cipriani, who scored four penalties from four attempts to outshine Bath's George Ford, with England's newest cap missing three of his five place-kicks including, crucially, the conversion of Ross Batty's 75th minute try.

Ford might still have won it for Bath at the death but the 21-year-old had one drop goal attempt charged down and fired another just wide to end the match.

Sale were in control for much of the game but were relieved that referee Dean Richards showed only one yellow card, to replacement prop Henry Thomas, as they conceded six scrum penalties on the same patch of mud on their own five-metre line.

Bath's Nick Abendanon is tackled by Sale's Eifion Lewis Roberts and Jon Mills. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

A Paul James 'no arms' tackle allowed Cipriani to kick the opening penalty after seven minutes but Ford levelled at 3-3 from short range soon after when the Sale backs were caught offside.

Sale, moving the ball confidently, were rewarded with a second Cipriani penalty when Matt Garvey was penalised for a high tackle on hooker Marc Jones.

The visitors were also winning the scrum battle, as Bath conceded two penalties on their own heel, the second giving Cipriani his third successful penalty, this time from nearly 50 metres.

Try-scoring chances were few and far between, however, but number eight Leroy Houston brought the crowd to their feet by running straight over the top of Dave Seymour and Ford pulled back three points when Sale infringed at a ruck.

The Bath fly-half had a chance to draw his side level just before half-time for a similar offence, but the kick drifted wide from near half-way and Sale were well worth their 9-6 lead at the break.

Sale's Tom Arscott is tackled by Bath's Ollie Devoto. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

Bath were caught trying to play their way out of their 22 soon shortly after the restart and presented Cipriani with his fourth successful kick, with Ford again off target at the other end.

Bath built a period of pressure and when Sale collapsed a five-metre scrum - their fourth penalty in seven scrums on the same patch of ground - Thomas was shown the yellow card on 68 minutes. On it went, with two more penalties without the scrum being completed before Sale eventually scrambled the ball into touch to end a farcical 10-minute sequence.

Bath finally forced their way over from a line-out catch and drive in the 75th minute with hooker Batty emerging from the heap of bodies. This time the television match official found in Bath's favour but Ford's conversion was wide.

With less than a minute remaining, Ford had a drop goal attempt charged down by Nick Macleod and then was agonisingly wide with another attempt right on the final whistle.

Bath's Kyle Eastmond has his clearance charged down. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

We are hurting inside. I am frustrated beyond belief. But look, we've got to move on and prepare to meet Brive next week.

The scrum-fest in the corner, I don't know how many minutes that took out of the game. Fifteen? With seven penalties on the run, the referee has just got to change behaviours. He sent one guy to the bin but I don't know how he didn't go under the sticks.

He said he couldn't give a penalty try unless they were going backwards but how can the scrum go backwards if they keep collapsing it?

Having said all that, for us to move forward, we've got to be able to deal with those sort of tactics. If Saracens were playing tonight, you'd think they'd have dealt with it better than we did.

At half-time I said we just had to lift the tempo a bit, get some speed into our game and work a little harder. In the first half there was a lot of space that we didn't exploit.

I think if we could have got one point in front on the scoreboard, then it might have forced them to play a bit. They had to just defend a lead. We missed the conversion and a couple of drop goals at the end.

But there are different pressures on this team now. People are expecting us to beat Sale at home and stay there as a top three contender. We have to deal with that.

– Mike Ford, Head Coach, Bath

We had a 10-hour journey down yesterday on the M6 and then we had our two senior players - Mark Cueto and Dan Braid - cry off in the team run, so we had our backs against the wall.

As we've proved time and time again, we fought like dogs and got the result.

– Steve Diamond, director of rugby, sale sharks
Sale players celebrate their victory at the final whistle. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

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