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Bath seals Twickenham return after dramatic victory

MATCH REPORT: Johann van Graan’s Bath ended a nine-year wait for a Twickenham final with a sensational 31-23 win over Sale Sharks.

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Sharks led with 15 minutes to go having trailed for much of the game before Bath delivered the killer blow leaving them 80 minutes away from a first domestic title since 1996.

Defeat for Alex Sanderson’s side was their first in six matches and ensured the curse of third place continues, with no side yet to win the Premiership after finishing in such a position during the regular season.

Following Northampton Saints’ victory over Saracens on Friday, Bath’s triumph ensures the top two from the regular season will do battle for glory in next Saturday’s final.

The Rec had waited nine long years for a home play-off and the atmosphere before kick-off suggested as much with as much pomp and pyrotechnics as these parts have seen in a while.

The home side did little to dampen their spirits, racing out the traps and applying pressure on Sharks from kick-off.

Ollie Lawrence would probably have been on for a walk-in try had it not been for a cruel bounce of the ball from a Finn Russell cross-kick.

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Bath didn’t have to wait long for their first points, with Russell knocking over a penalty after Joe Cokanasiga was blocked chasing a Russell up-and-under.

Ted Hill failed to score a Premiership try during the regular season but his fingerprints were all over Bath’s first try of the afternoon as he muscled his way past three defenders to set the hosts on their way to the line.

Russell made a half-break before Ben Spencer dinked over to find Hill in the corner to extend Bath’s early lead.

Sharks responded with a maul try from Ben Curry but Bath re-established a two-score lead when Beno Obano burrowed over after Will Muir’s 50:22.

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Russell added a second penalty from halfway to make it 18-5 after Sam Dugdale was found to have caught Alfie Barbeary via the assistance of the TMO but Bath had to withstand a late onslaught to go in ahead.

Lawrence produced a sensational last-ditch tackle to thwart Tom O’Flaherty before a second Sharks close-range maul try arrived from Tommy Taylor and Ford then cut the deficit to three points with a penalty.

The momentum was well and truly with Sharks as halftime approached but Bath survived and reset at the interval.

Fly-halves Ford and Russell traded penalties inside the first 10 minutes of the second period before the Sharks hit the front for the first time in the match through O’Flaherty.

A knock-on from Cokanasiga was punished to maximum effect by Sharks’ back-three as Tom Roebuck fed Joe Carpenter and the full-back’s chip forward was weighted perfectly for wing O’Flaherty to dot down and make it 23-21.

Russell’s fourth penalty pushed Bath back ahead but despite a miss from the tee with eight minutes to go, the West Country side soon made sure of victory.

Another Spencer dink evaded Cokanasiga but touched a Sharks hand before bouncing into touch on the five-meter line.

Bath piled the bodies into the resulting maul with Niall Annett at the heart of the drive, touching down to an explosion of noise from the home crowd as their place in the grand final was confirmed.

Scorers:

For Bath:
Tries: Hill, Obano
Con: Russell
Pens: Russell 4

For Sale Sharks:
Tries: B Curry, Taylor, O’Flaherty
Con: Ford
Pen: Ford

Teams

Bath: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer (c), 8 Alfie Barbeary, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Miles Reid

Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Sam James, 12 Rob du Preez, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 George Ford, 9 Gus Warr, 8 Jean Luc du Preez, 7 Sam Dugdale, 6 Ben Curry (c), 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 James Harper, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Bevan Rodd
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Ben Bamber, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Luke James, 23 Tom Curry

Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley, Sara Cox
TMO: Stuart Terheege

Source @PremiershipRugby

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