Sale Sharks 16 - Bath 9
A super performance from the Sharks' forwards set up a crucial win, with the icing on the cake coming when full back Rob Miller scored the game's only try with eight minutes left.
Chasing a fly hack along the greasy turf, Miller was adjudged the winner of a foot race with Nick Abendanon as he 'got the nod' from the TMO. Nick Macleod added the conversion to create a seven-point gap. Though Bath started and finished the game strongly, Sharks had done enough in between to merit victory and the visitors took away a bonus point.
Sharks deserve lots of credit for their performance. The forwards' effort was heroic, with Ward, Buckley, Ostrikov, Myall and Powell particularly taking the eye. Behind them, Cillian Willis, on for the injured Dwayne Peel after only eleven minutes, maintained the momentum and put in a controlled display.
Heathcote missed a second minute penalty chance before the Sharks got into their stride. Tuitupou, Ward, Myall and Sheridan all raided the Bath line, but nobody could score. Miller produced a spectacular run but passed behind Cueto. He then kicked directly into touch before Abendanon collected a bloodied nose for his trouble in catching a high ball. Vernon was somewhat harshly adjudged to have deliberately knocked on when it seemed he was genuinely on the edge of an interception.
Sharks lost Sheridan to the sinbin after 20 minutes after he infringed in the air against an opponent at a lineout. Barkley slotted over the game's opening penalty as a consequence. The fourteen men carried the game to Bath, with the big men - Buckley and Powell - to the fore. An ambitious pass nearly proved fatal: Banahan intercepted but then tripped over his own feet. Biggs and Fearns made fine bursts.
The trusty boot of Nick Macleod gave the Sharks a 6-3 half time lead. His first penalty, after offside on 34 minutes, was from 40 metres out whereas his second five minutes later was in front of the posts affter Bath hadn't rolled away. The visitors infringed again a minute later (holding on this time) but with the countdown clock showing zero, Macleod was forced to try a penalty attempt from 5 metres inside his own half. The ball went wide right.
Heavy rain started to fall at half time, and this affected the second half. The Sharks scrum and lineout continued to look efficient. Tuitupou took the ball on, but unfortunately Ward mishandled when in a good position. The skipper seemed to have lost the ball for a second time on 47 minutes, but the ball found Cueto, who kicked ahead. Seymour chased to force Bath to touch down in goal. Although the ebullient Powell broke away from the 5 metre scrum, Bath defended well and were awarded a defensive penalty. This was good, tough stuff from the Sharks.
Bath were offside again after 53 minutes, Macleod making it 9-3, but offside continued to be referee Garner's specialist area of attention, and Barkley put over penalties on 55 and 64 minutes to equalise. On 71 minutes, Sharks drove hard in short, ground level, bursts but ended by being penalised. A minute later came the moment the supporters will long remember. Out of nothing, Rob Miller chased a kick ahead to ground the ball. Had Nick Abendanon got there first? "No!" came the verdict, after lengthy consideration by the TMO, and the Cumbrian 15 had his tenth try of the season. Macleod converted.
From the re-start, Sharks again transgressed, but the Bath penalties were now being kicked into touch. Twice, the light grey scrum cap of Kearnan Myall soared into the damp Stockport night sky to steal a visiting lineout.
In the final minute, the Sharks made a decision to try a long penalty attempt. Macleod's effort was just short but, agonisingly, possession of the ball went back to Bath. They forged upfield, knowing that they had to keep the ball on the pitch. Sharks infringed, Bath took a tap penalty. The ball was being worked nearer the home line but, well after the timer clock had stopped at 0:00, Bath knocked on wide right and the game was over.
Steve Diamond's verdict: "We're delighted with the win. We've worked hard since Saracens and we were unlucky to lose the game against Newcastle Falcons away.
"We've done a lot on our defence and it showed in the last 15 minutes that they've been listening to what we've been doing in training.
"At this end of the season, if we can scrape into Europe, then they're the four points that might help us get there."
Scoring: (Sharks first): 0-3, 3-3, 6-3 (Half Time) 9-3, 9-6, 9-9, 16-9.
Aviva Man of the Match: Andy Powell. Attendance: 8043
Scorers: Sharks - Try Miller. Con.Macleod. Pens.Macleod (3). Bath - Pens. Barkley (3)
Sharks: 15.Rob Miller, 14.Tom Brady, 13.Johnny Leota, 12.Sam Tuitupou (capt.), 11.Mark Cueto, 10.Nick Macleod, 9.Dwayne Peel,1.Andrew Sheridan,2. Joe Ward, 3.Tony Buckley,4.Andrei Ostrikov,5.Kearnan Myall,6.Richie Vernon,7.David Seymour,8.Andy Powell.
Replacements: 16. Marc Jones, 17.Vadim Cobilas (both not used), 18.Henry Thomas for Buckley (64) ,19.Tom Holmes (not used), 20.Mark Easter for Vernon (64), 21.Cillian Willis for Peel (11), 22.Will Addison for Tuitupou (61), 23.Charlie Amesbury (not used).
Congratulations to Ray Firwood, who won £381.40 in Sharky's Half Time Draw with ticket number 14054. Ray's already renewed his Season Ticket.
Just one more home game to go: versus Harlequins on Saturday 5th May.