The Bath bandwagon continued to roll on two fronts as they comfortably sealed the remaining place in the European Challenge Cup final, defeating Sale 36-14 at The Rec on Saturday.
Bath's bandwagon continued to roll on two fronts as they comfortably sealed the remaining place in the European Challenge Cup final, defeating Sale 36-14 at The Rec on Saturday.
With Guinness Premiership title and play-off ambitions temporarily put on the backburner, these two in-form sides played out anything but a cagey, knockout affair in the Somerset sunshine.
In a pulsating clash, the home side ran in five electric tries to Sale's one as injuries to Charlie Hodgson, Andrew Sheridan and Ben Foden could well spell of the end their season.
New England Team Manager Martin Johnson was an interested spectator, alongside a coaching line-up including John Wells, Graham Rowntree and Mike Ford as they made their notes for the June exams.
But it was Sale's star All Black signing who came out with all guns blazing as Luke McAlister fiercely sent the returning Nick Abendanon to the floor. And then the full-back had his covering skills tested to the hilt as Richard Wigglesworth delicately dabbed into space, which led to Hodgson's opening drop-goal.
However, that only seemed to stir the home side into life as Michael Claassens charged down a Hodgson clearance to gather and cross the whitewash.
That was duly followed by a well-taken Olly Barkley penalty as Bath set about turning up the European heat.
And that they did as openside Michael Lipman capped a superb phase-ridden period by crashing over in the corner with Barkley adding the extras.
The Sharks, just three places below their hosts in the league, then turned the tide as a superb inside line from out of position Sean Cox saw him stride through a gaping hole in Bath's defence.
From there the supporting Chris Bell straightened but was just hauled down before the line with a penalty coming.
Then controversy struck at The Rec as France's only semi-final representative, referee Christophe Berdos, told home captain Steve Borthwick to talk to his side on their own try-line.
In the meantime, Hodgson spotted soon to be Saint Chris Mayor unopposed on the left flank and dropped a beautiful cross-kick onto the winger, much to the disappointment of the Bath faithful.
However, their bitten tongues felt much better when the attack-minded Bath swiftly raced downfield with Claassens and Butch James darting, before Danny Grewcock's power saw him crash over on 22 minutes.
And Barkley's extras were surprisingly the final score of the opening forty in what was a pulsating 38-point feast.
From the restart, Bath professionally applied the squeeze and dominated proceedings as they wore down a tiring Sharks outfit, whose injury woes partly hampered their European effort.
Philippe Saint-Andre duly sent on the much-needed replacements with England summer hopeful Richard Wigglesworth having to fill in on the wing for injured Spaniard Oriol Ripol.
Yet Bath failed to ease up on their wounded opponents, and a breakaway score from Andrew Higgins and a smart James grubber through to Matt Banahan sealed their May date with Worcester.
Tries: Claassens, Lipman, Grewcock, Higgins, Banahan
Con: Barkley 4
Pen: Hodgson, McAlister
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Chris Goodman, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jonny Faamatuainu, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 1 David Barnes.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Duncan Bell, 18 Peter Short, 19 Zak Feaunati, 20 Mike Baxter, 21 Shaun Berne, 22 Tom Cheeseman.
Sale Sharks: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Mayor, 13 Chris Bell, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Oriol Ripol, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 7 Chris Jones, 6 Sean Cox, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe (c), 3 Stuart Turner, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Eifion Roberts, 18 Lionel Faure, 19 Brent Cockbain, 20 Michael Hills, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Julien Laharrague.
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)