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.
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.
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.
“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.”