Sunday, 8 March 2015

Premiership Review - Bath 12 - 3 Sale

Doing a spare-time rugby blog has its ups and downs. On the plus side, I occasionally get trips to big games or interviews with top players arranged that I otherwise wouldn't have a hope in getting.  On the downside, I occasionally have to write an article the night before I go on holiday when I should be packing (as I am now) and I also have to occasionally write about a game which was considerably less enjoyable than pushing needles into your eyes whilst listening to a Justin Beiber record.  Which again is the case here.  Bath v Sale should have been a brutal, enterprising and exciting encounter given the quality of players both sides had at their disposal and the fact they were both locked in a tense playoff battle, but instead - as you'll see - I gave up at half time.

That said, I did have my customary enthusiasm at the start of the match, boosted by their marvellous double-pint cups - it wasn't even dampened by that berk yelling 'come on you Bath' over the tannoy every 5 minutes (note to the club, stop it, it's classless and it doesn't even make sense).  Bath had all the ball in a physical opening, using Garvey and centre Sam Burgess as prominent ball-carriers, with the crowd being treated to some rare glimpses of Burgess' dexterity with the ball in hand.  Homer landed an opening penalty strike after 14 minutes that rewarded their territorial dominance, but also suffered an early injury blow when Henry Thomas, who was on England bench duty against Ireland in Dublin last weekend, departed with what appeared to be a shoulder problem.  It added to the home team's front-row injury worries, with Thomas fellow international props Paul James and David Wilson both currently sidelined, and meant an early appearance for Kane Palma-Newport who at least stirred the crowd from a near slumber as they revelled in his magnificent beard.

Cipriani missed a golden chance to put Sale level, but his straightforward 24th-minute penalty chance went astray when he slipped on contact with the ball, with the home crowd suitably sympathetic towards the England international in light of his mis-fortune. Sale full-back Mike Haley - who otherwise looked relatively dangerous - then dropped the restart to compound Sharks' frustration, and Homer doubled Bath's advantage after referee Wayne Barnes, who was making his 150th Premiership appearance, awarded a penalty following a scrum offence.

Cipriani then made amends for his miss by bisecting the posts from 48 metres, and despite Bath looking to turn the screw up-front as half-time approached, they were frustrated by a combination of their own errors and resilient Sale defence in a first half that was characterised by terrible, terrible tactical kicking.

A 6-3 interval advantage was scant reward for Bath's territorial dominance, but Sale remained firmly in the contest ahead of a key second 40 minutes for both clubs.  I'm not going to lie, I headed to the bar at half time and, based on the quality of the rugby on show in the first period, I didn't return to my seat - although I did watch the remainder of the game unfold on the big screen as I enjoyed a delicious (double) pint of Bath Gem, which was far more interesting in many ways. 
The visitors took early charge of the second period, camping inside Bath's 22, yet their hopes of an opening try were denied when centre Johnny Leota was penalised for clearly crossing in midfield.

It was a reprieve for Bath, and frustrations boiled over when home skipper Stuart Hooper and Sale lock Nathan Hines were involved in an off-the-ball skirmish before Homer gained a fifth penalty chance, and he completed his hat-trick to secure a six-point advantage.
Homer then extended Bath's lead to nine points, and there was no way back for Sale as the home side comfortably closed matters out, and Barnes blew to put the crowd out of their misery.

It was a huge win for Bath, who make sure that they remain right in the playoff mix - but for Sale, it looks increasingly like they will struggle to extend their season, or even make the Champions Cup next year.  To be honest, I didn't give any of that too much thought though - I was enjoying the highlight of my evening, in a double-pint cup.


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