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Bath beat Sale in thriller to reach Premiership final

Bath players celebrate Niall Annett's try
Niall Annett came off the bench to score the try that would send Bath to the Premiership final in their victory over Sale Sharks [Getty Images]

Gallagher Premiership semi-final

Bath: (18) 31

Tries: Hill, Obano, Annett Pens: Russell 4 Cons: Russell 2

Sale: (15) 23

Tries: B Curry, Taylor, O'Flaherty Pens: Ford 2 Cons: Ford

Bath beat Sale 31-23 in an enthralling semi-final to set up a Premiership final against Northampton Saints.

Replacement Niall Annett’s 74th-minute try sealed a dramatic victory to send Bath to their first final for nine years.

The Somerset club were rock bottom of the league just two years ago but will now compete for their first Premiership title since 1996.

Tries from Ted Hill and Beno Obano were cancelled out by scores for Sale captain Ben Curry and Tommy Taylor as the home side held a slender half-time lead.

Sale briefly led in the second half through winger Tom O’Flaherty’s try, but Bath fly-half Finn Russell’s 16 kicked points proved pivotal as the teams were separated by just one point with less than 10 minutes on the clock.

Annett’s late score ultimately clinched a fascinating semi-final played at an electric pace, with the league’s top two now set to face off for the title at Twickenham on 8 June.

Tom O'Flaherty of Sale Sharks is challenged by Joe Cokanasiga of Bath Rugby
Bath reached their first Premiership final in nine years with victory at the Recreation Ground [Rex Features]

The home side made a strong start at a raucous Recreation Ground, and Hill finished a scintillating move after being set free down the right.

The ball was worked back to Russell before scrum-half Ben Spencer’s kick found flanker Hill to score the game’s first try.

Last season’s beaten finalists Sale soon hit back through captain Curry as the England man powered over the line in the maul after George Ford had kicked into the corner.

Prop Obano scored Bath’s second before Russell kicked a penalty between the posts from the halfway line to open up a 13-point lead for the home side.

Ollie Lawrence’s superb tackle denied O’Flaherty at the end of a brilliant run as the game was played with great intensity.

There was an element of deja-vu for Sale’s second try as Taylor powered over from a similar position to their first try, with the Sharks taking advantage of the power of their maul.

Ford converted and then scored a penalty to suddenly bring Sale to within three points as the visitors capitalised on a good spell at the end of the first half to go into the break only 18-15 behind.

Ford levelled the game up before Tom Curry was introduced for Sale early in the second half, the back-rower making his first appearance since sustaining a hip injury playing for England at the World Cup last year.

Sharks took the lead for what would be the only time in the match when full-back Joe Carpenter pounced on a mistake from Bath to kick a great ball through for winger O’Flaherty to score.

Russell’s fourth successful penalty of the game gave Bath a one-point lead with 15 minutes remaining but the Scotland international missed a chance for his fifth with eight minutes to go to leave the game in the balance.

However, the Bath pack found the strength to power over the line with a converted try from replacement prop Annett, giving them a two-score lead with Twickenham on the horizon.

They will face table toppers Saints, who beat last season's champions Saracens 22-20 on Friday.

'We've put belief and pride back into the jersey' - reaction

Bath director of rugby Johann van Graan told BBC Radio 5 Live:

"My family and my faith are very important to me, I'm very thankful for days like this.

"This group of players and staff have made a difference to the lives of the people of Bath.

"We've put belief and pride back into the jersey. I saw them belonging to an incredible club today and we've created a journey that’s gone from hope to belief, and the belief is back in Bath Rugby.

"This was an incredible game of rugby so credit to Sale, they're gracious in defeat.

"What a place to play rugby – The Rec was rocking today."

Bath fly-half Finn Russell said:

"When I signed here I didn't think I'd get to a final in the first season so that's brilliant but we've not achieved our goal yet, our goal is to win the Premiership so we've put ourselves in a great position to do that.

"The work starts now and we've got to perform next weekend better than we did today to get the win."

Sale Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson said:

"[I feel] numb, that it's ended prematurely and frustrated because we're victims of our own demise today.

"They're a special group and it's been a pretty special season.

"We just didn't seem to have the composure to keep the pressure on them every time we turned the tide.

"We've grown a good squad here over the last three years and clearly we've got some growing to do but I'm really glad to be part of it."

Sale fly-half George Ford said:

"It's always disappointing when you lose a semi-final and the feeling is we could have helped ourselves a lot more than we did.

"We felt good on the field, we didn’t feel like we were running out of steam or anything like that.

"It's one we'll take on the chin, lick our wounds, have the summer off and come back better."

Bath: Gallagher; Cokanasiga, Lawrence, Redpath, Muir; Russell, Spencer (c); Obano, Dunn, Du Toit; Roux, Ewels; Hill, Underhill, Barbeary

Replacements: Annett, Schoeman, Stuart, Stooke, Bayliss, Schreuder, Bailey, Reid

Sale: Carpenter; Roebuck, S James, R du Preez, O'Flaherty; Ford, Warr; Rodd, Taylor, Harper; Wiese, Van Rhyn; B Curry (c), Dugdale, JL du Preez

Replacements: Creevy, McIntrye, John, Bamber, Ellis, Quirke, L James, T Curry

Referee: Luke Pearce