Bath continued their impressive start to 2011 with a 19-7 Aviva Premiership victory over Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park on Friday.
Bath continued their impressive start to 2011 with a 19-7 Aviva Premiership victory at Sale Sharks, their sixth win from seven games since the turn of the year.
Sharks head coach Pete Anglesea had spoken beforehand of a desire to start looking up the table but after a defeat which keeps them just 12 points above Leeds, Sale will be glancing over their shoulders for a while yet.
They actually dominated Bath in possession, having around 65 per cent of the ball, and played the better attacking rugby.
But they came up with crucial errors, were badly second best at the scrum and came up against a solid Bath defensive display.
The visitors went ahead inside a minute, winning a penalty from a lineout, which Olly Barkley knocked over.
Moments later Sale's forwards set up a similar chance for Charlie Hodgson, but the former England fly-half was wide with his effort at goal.
More powerful play in the tight from the Sale forwards got them close to the Bath line but an error surrendered possession.
Quick work from Michael Claassens forced Sale to hold on and another pinpoint penalty from Barkley doubled the lead.
Sale's scrum was in serious trouble and was not helped when prop Lee Imiolek was forced off after 20 minutes and moments later centre Rhys Crane followed him off on a stretcher.
Bath quickly took advantage, punching the Sale scrum back close to their own line, giving Nick Abendanon the opportunity to pick up the loose ball and scoot round the back of the set-piece to score.
Barkley converted from the touchline but Sale hit back immediately.
Ben Cohen won the re-start and and after more good forward work with ball in hand, it was shipped out wide for Cohen to dive over in the corner. It was almost impossible to tell whether the winger's elbow was in touch as he scored, but the video referee gave him the benefit of the doubt. Hodgson knocked over the conversion and Sale headed in at half-time with hope renewed.
But they failed to find any cutting edge at all after the break despite again enjoying most of the play.
Barkley's flawless display with the boot continued as he slotted another two penalties, while Hodgson saw another very kickable penalty rebound off an upright.
That summed up a frustrating night for the Sharks, who for all their – at times impressive – efforts could not even come away with a bonus point.
Pens: Barkley 4
Sale Sharks: 15 Nick Macleod, 14 Rhys Crane, 13 Chris Bell, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole 7 Carl Fearns, 6 James Gaskell, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Chris Jones, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Lee Imiolek.
Replacements: 16 Ben Roberts, 17 Aston Croall, 18 Simon McIntyre, 19 Nic Rouse, 20 Sean Cox, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Iain Thornley.
Bath:15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Tom Biggs, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Luke Watson (c), 6 Ben Skirving, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Stuart Hooper, 3 Duncan Bell, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 David Barnes, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Sam Vesty, 23 Nick Scott.
Referee: Chris White