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Russell steers Bath to second spot

PREMIERSHIP REPORT: Bath powered into second place on their return to Premiership action with a bonus-point 42-24 victory over struggling Sale Sharks.

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Joe Cokanasiga scored two of Bath’s five tries and Finn Russell’s boot accounted for 17 points from four conversions, two penalties and a left-footed drop goal.

Sale Sharks, trying to halt a run of six successive defeats in all competitions since Christmas, were level at 24-24 on the hour but faded in the last quarter.

Bath look threatening from the kick-off and took the lead through Matt Gallagher after just four minutes as Cameron Redpath latched on to an offload from Cokanasiga to send his full-back away, with Russell converting from wide out.

Sale Sharks sought a quick response and centre Rob Du Preez beat Gallagher to a lofted kick by George Ford but Bevan Rodd spilled a pass with the home defence stretched.

A Ford penalty after 10 minutes cut Bath’s lead to 7-3 and the game became a more cagey affair as the scrumhalves repeatedly sent the ball skyward.

Sale Sharks took confidence too from a misfiring Bath line-out and Du Preez became an increasingly influential presence in midfield.

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He was twice involved in the probing attacks that led to an 18th-minute try for centre partner Manu Tuilagi, who left both Russell and Cokanasiga sprawling before ambling over the line.

The Bath pair made amends five minutes later though, starting and finishing a neat sequence which saw Russell dummying through the Sale defensive line, finding support from Tom Dunn and Redpath, who offloaded to Cokanasiga to over for a converted try.

The visitors should have scored immediately as left wing Arron Reed headed for the left corner but Bath scrumhalf Ben Spencer pulled off a seemingly impossible try-saving tackle to prevent the touchdown.

Although the Sale Sharks began to rack up penalties, their defence was strong enough to deny Bath further points before the break.

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Sale Sharks then could not believe their luck just three minutes into the second half when Spencer passed into Tom Roebuck’s hands, leaving the right wing with a run-in to the corner, with Ford adding their conversion.

Bath responded with another try for Cokanasiga, galloping on to an inside pass from Ted Hill and Russell’s conversion put Bath 24-17 ahead after 52 minutes, only to lose Ollie Lawrence to the sin-bin for head contact with Rob du Preez.

Sale Sharks immediately took advantage with a walk-in at the corner by flank Sam Dugdale, also converted by Ford.

Russell maintained his 100 percent kicking record with a penalty under the posts and then with a wobbly drop goal with his less-favoured left foot to ease Bath into a 30-24 lead.

A catch-and-drive try awarded to Dunn earned the try bonus point after 70 minutes and Lawrence then added another, this time unconverted, as strong-finishing Bath wrapped up the win.

The scorers:

For Bath:
Tries: Gallagher, Cokanasiga 2, Dunn, Lawrence
Cons: Russell 4
Pens: Russell 2
Drop-goal: Russell

For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Tuilagi, Roebuck, Dugdale
Cons: Ford 3
Pen: Ford

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 Archie Griffin, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Jaco Coetzee

Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck 13 Rob du Preez (c), 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Arron Reed, 10 George Ford, 9 Gus Warr, 8 JL du Preez, 7 Sam Dugdale, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Josh Beaumont, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 James Harper, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Bevan Rodd
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Si McIntyre, 18 Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 19 Ben Bamber, 20 Hyron Andrews, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Sam James, 23 Tom O’Flaherty

Referee: Adam Leal
Assistant referees: Greg MacDonald, Tom Foley
TMO: Dean Richards

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