Sale coach Alex Sanderson again hailed the impact of fly-half George Ford as the England playmaker proved the difference in the Sharks’ 27-13 Premiership win at Bristol.

Ford provided seven points with the boot and the 30-year-old was devastating with the ball in hand as he pulled the strings of a Sharks attack that ran in four tries to seal a bonus-point victory on the road.

Aaron Reed, Sam James, Rob du Preez and Joe Carpenter crossed for tries for Sale, with Josh Caulfield going over for Bath’s solitary five-pointer.

“George looked silky in attack, really silky,” said Sanderson.

“That is the part of our game we have been looking to grow and the part of his game he wants to prove he is one of the best at and not just landing drop goals from 50 metres. He can do it all can’t he?

“It was his call to get back in a play so quickly after the World Cup and he actually looks better than last season. He has come back with a bit more zip in his step, really attacking the line well.

“But I was most impressed by the physical battle out there and the fact that we won most of the collisions is pleasing and makes everything easier.”

“They were knocking on the door in the last quarter and it was pleasing the way our bench stuck in there. We probably worked harder than we have ever worked.”

Victory takes Sharks to within a point of the summit after five matches, with only Harlequins matching their four wins to open the new campaign.

By contrast, defeat in front of their home faithful leaves Bears outside the fledgling play-off places with two wins from their opening five.

Director of rugby, Pat Lam, revealed his disappointment with the way his side coped with the pressure of dealing with a player of Ford’s match-winning ability.

He said: “George is a class player. We all saw that at the World Cup. He makes a big difference to them but collectively as a team they are a good side.

“They have a clear way they want to play, they want to impose themselves on you, take your time and space away and I felt we didn’t react well to that today.

“We spoke about making short passes and we were making long passes and sometimes you just have to take them. We didn’t adjust too well and panicked under the pressure we were under.

“We know what they are going to bring and unfortunately, we just made too many turnovers at key moments.

“We just panicked and threw the ball around too much. We just needed to relax and build pressure. We talked about that at half-time and trying to create scoreboard pressure.

“I keep saying it but we are not far off. It is fine margins at this level of rugby and little mistakes can have big consequences.”