Late Danny Cipriani penalty secures Bath a draw in thriller against Sale

This utterly enthralling match can be bluntly characterised as a contest between Bath’s free-flowing ambition and Sale’s crushing power.

It is a touch more complicated than that, but in searching for a third straight Premiership win, Bath spent the afternoon trying to prove that brawn can be bypassed by skill and pace.

In the end, when Faf de Klerk’s last-ditch penalty faded wide soon after Danny Cipriani’s levelling kick at the other end, there was nothing to separate them.

Sale’s hopes of the playoffs took a dent, while Bath remain bottom despite Sam Underhill’s double on his return from Six Nations duty with England.

“We’ve really worked hard in that [attacking] aspect, and it’s starting to pay reward,” said the Bath head coach, Neal Hatley, of their eye-catching all-court game. “I’m so proud of our forward pack, with the effort that they put in, to get back to 24-all.”

The early signs had been worrying for Hatley’s men: their No 8, Nathan Hughes, was shown a yellow card for a high fifth-minute tackle on Arron Reed.

De Klerk was involved regularly early on and Sale, as a result, took control. After a powerful drive in the corner, Sam James fed Luke James and he stepped inside to score under the posts.

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The Wasps head coach, Lee Blackett, praised Jimmy Gopperth’s composure under pressure after the veteran fly-half’s late penalty sealed a 27-24 Premiership victory over Newcastle.

The 38-year-old held his nerve against his former club with less than five minutes remaining at the Coventry Building Society Arena, seeing his effort sail between the posts despite slipping upon contact.

Blackett had nothing but praise for the ever-reliable Gopperth, who scored 12 points. “Jimmy always says when he falls on his backside, he never misses, so as soon as I saw him fall I knew straight away,” he said.

“I’m really pleased with Jimmy, he’s come up with some big moments consistently. There’s probably no one in the league you’d rather have kicking that kick at the end of a game. We fell short of the high standards we rightly expect from each other but we still won the game and that will be the big thing.”

George McGuigan got the scoring under way inside 15 minutes and went on to cross for a hat-trick, though Falcons were consistently pegged back by their hosts in a topsy-turvy clash. Dan Robson, Joe Launchbury and Tom West crossed for the hosts before Gopperth’s late penalty.

Northampton‘s director of rugby, Chris Boyd, paid tribute to his international stars Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar after they slotted straight back into club action during a 42-22 win over London Irish. In a crucial clash in the race for the top four, Saints bounced back from an early 8-0 deficit by racking up 42 unanswered points with the skippers of England and Wales making an immediate impact on their returns.

Boyd said: “Courtney didn’t come in until Thursday, he had a couple of days with his family, but he came back in and you very seldom get a bad day out of Courtney. Dan Biggar was in on Tuesday and rolled his sleeves up and got straight back. They contributed much the same as a number of other people but coming back from international duty, they put in a pretty good shift.”

Ollie Hassell-Collins crossed early for Irish before Tom Collins responded with the first of two tries. Rory Hutchinson gave them the lead before half-time, with a penalty try and Alex Mitchell score wrapping up the bonus point immediately after the break.

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But Sale would not have it all their own way. Back from the sin bin, Hughes was denied a try for a previous knock-on but Underhill was soon bludgeoning his way over the try-line, and Cipriani converted to level at 7-7.

Bath were bubbling and Underhill soon dived over again. Cipriani converted and Bath, impressively, had battled back in front. After the referee, Hamish Smales, sent Sale’s Ben Curry to the sin bin, Ben Spencer’s opportunistic 50-22 kick brought position for Bath’s third five-pointer.

Spencer spun the ball to Jonathan Joseph, who fed Cipriani. Tom De Glanville sprinted for the line and it was 21-7 at half-time.

Sam Underhill of Bath takes on the Bristol defence.
Sam Underhill scored twice for Bath on his return from Six Nations duty with England. Photograph: Patrick Khachfe/Shutterstock

After Underhill spilled the chance of a remarkable hat-trick soon after the break, Sale made their power tell. A couple of meaty carries resulted in Jean-Luc du Preez rumbling over. Rob du Preez missed the conversion but Sale were back in it: even more so when Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored to bring Sale within four.

Bath were pinned back in their 22, and as the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes Ewan Ashman was the next Sale forward to power over. De Klerk converted – and Sale edged ahead, 24-21, but two previous missed kicks would prove significant.

A momentum-shifting penalty allowed Bath to stream down into the away 22 and when Tom Roebuck was penalised, Cipriani cracked over a simple three-pointer. De Klerk could not steal maximum points with his late effort at goal.

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“It’s going to be a bus trip [home] of two halves, isn’t it? Like it was a game of two halves,” said the Sale director of rugby, Alex Sanderson. “If we want to contend, we’ve got to do it for 80 [minutes]. The best teams do, and we’re not there yet.”