Sharks 12 Bath 25 SALE Sharks lost their unbeaten record at the third hurdle as Bath deservedly took the spoils at Edgeley Park.
The visitors, who had lost their two opening encounters after their much-publicised summer of internal turmoil, were full value for their victory, running in three tries as the home side again had to rely on the boot of Lee Thomas to score.
For the first half hour attempts to produce flowing rugby were halted by stoppages and handling errors. There was the usual quota of tactical kicking so prevalent in the modern game, which, if anything, increased as the game progressed.
Lee Thomas and Nicki Little had sent over penalties for a 9-6 scoreline to Sale Sharks before the impressive Matt Carraro brushed aside some weak defence on the left to score the game’s first try, Little converting.
The West Country side went down the tunnel at half time with a flattering 13-9 lead, but sealed the game in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Giant Bath winger Matt Banahan appeared near the posts to scythe through for the second try after 45 minutes, and it only took a further five for Carraro to complete his brace.
Following a ruck, Bath had swiftly transferred the ball through plenty of pairs of hands to stretch the home defence. Former Shark Little added the conversion.
In reply, Thomas sent over his fourth penalty of the night, but the Sharks displayed limited ideas behind the scrum – they’ve scored one try in three matches now. Nick Macleod had a mazy run out of defence, Mathew Tait tried to worm a way through, but there was little threat on the wings. Late charges by Schofield and Sheridan came to nought, and the team couldn’t mount a score to give themselves a chance of a losing bonus point, even when Banahan (70 mins) and Beattie (74 mins) were shown yellow cards.
The return of Charlie Hodgson to direct operations by releasing his famous delayed pass can’t come soon enough. The Sharks’ best player by far was 19-years-old lock James Gaskell, who disrupted lineouts and constantly looked to break free of the Bath shackles.
Although this was the side’s first defeat, the manner in which the team approached the game’s latter phases sent out a warning signal for the weeks to come. Service from the scrum was too slow and the level of initiative among the backs too low.
This Saturday’s visit to Worcester assumes extra importance as the Sharks try to put Friday’s poor show behind them.
Tickets for the forthcoming home games against London Irish (2nd October) and Cardiff Blues (16th October) are on sale. Call 09444 884 884.