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Bath secures the second spot in the Premiership standings with a strong finish to defeat Sale.
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Bath secures the second spot in the Premiership standings with a strong finish to defeat Sale.

Each individual point will be crucial in the final stretch of the Premiership season. Based on what we have seen, Finn Russell may receive gratitude from Bath once the playoff calculations are completed. One of the reasons the Scottish fly-half made the move to the western region was to have the opportunity to battle for trophies. Alongside Joe Cokanasiga, Russell played a significant role in securing a noteworthy victory that raises his team to second place in the standings.

In the final quarter, Bath’s forwards took control and contributed to Sale’s sixth consecutive loss in all competitions. Additionally, Russell assisted in four of Bath’s five tries, impressive with his kicking from all angles. He also made his first Premiership career drop goal with his non-dominant left foot. Two tries were scored by Cokanasiga and one by England’s Lawrence, further showcasing Bath’s dominant performance.

The final score could have been more lopsided if Cokanasiga had caught a pass from Lawrence near the end, as he was on track for a hat-trick. However, the Sharks had already been defeated on a sunny afternoon next to the River Avon and Russell had been taken out of the game to prepare for future challenges.

If the match was tied at 24-24 with 17 minutes left, Sale’s set piece started to struggle, and Russell was able to take advantage of quick ball. In just 12 minutes, Bath scored 18 unanswered points, including Russell’s unconventional drop goal, bringing them within two points of leaders Northampton with five regular-season games remaining.

Alex Sanderson, director of rugby for Sale, accurately assessed Bath as a versatile team who can win games using various strategies. They have the ability to make precise passes and open up the field, as seen multiple times with Russell’s skilled manipulation. Additionally, they can frustrate opponents with Spencer’s expert kicking game, or play a more straight-forward style if necessary. If they can combine all three tactics and maintain a calm mindset, they have the potential to be strong contenders this season.

Sale was not just standing by as passive observers. They also made purposeful attacks, such as when Manu Tuilagi spun out of Russell’s tackle.­

Setting the pace in the opening quarter by removing the cover, the player demonstrated why Bayonne has spent a large sum to secure his contract for the upcoming season. However, in this instance, an energized Cokanasiga also posed a significant threat and, after missing an earlier chance, Russell, Tom Dunn, and a final pass from Cam Redpath placed him back in control of the game.

Joe Cokanasiga touches down for Bath

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George Ford, who played a similar style for England, was also challenging his former team while playing at a close distance to the line. Sale was the first to score in the second half after Tom Roebuck intercepted a pass from Spencer and made a quick run. Despite losing Alfie Barbeary to a hamstring injury and having Lawrence receive a yellow card before half-time, Bath always seemed to have the skills to find solutions when needed.

Cokanasiga scored his second try, thanks to a well-executed flick from Russell and support from Underhill and Hill. This was his 10th try in nine games. Despite a response from Dugdale for Sale, Bath took control of the game when it counted. They put pressure on Sale’s set piece and maul, allowing Dunn to secure a try bonus point. Muir’s excellent offload set up Lawrence for another try on the left.

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Bath’s head of rugby, Johann van Graan, emphasized after the game that while Russell is a key player on the team, he is not the only one. However, van Graan acknowledged that the Scot has been instrumental in the team’s pursuit of success, both in domestic and Champions Cup competitions. “He is an amazing individual with a one-of-a-kind personality,” van Graan stated, noting that Russell quickly moved on from Scotland’s up-and-down Six Nations campaign. “He has the ability to leave the past behind and seamlessly integrate into the team.”

Sanderson, having experienced it firsthand, was just as complimentary. “We managed to get to him a few times today, but the real moment is when you can’t. When he does the show-and-go move, like we did in the second half. You think you’re in a strong position defensively and then suddenly it’s like, ‘Where did that come from?’ He has that special quality to create something out of nothing.”

After their upcoming match against Harlequins next week, Bath could potentially have another exhilarating showdown. If they emerge victorious, Van Graan’s team will truly be in contention, with a Champions Cup matchup against Exeter in the last 16. Van Graan expressed his ambitious aspirations for the club, stating that they are striving to compete in all competitions. Based on their performance, it seems they may very well achieve this goal.

Source: theguardian.com