Ford stakes claim for England berth
George Ford eclipsed Danny Cipriani in the battle of the England fly-halves as Bath overcame Sale 29-20 in front of national coach Stuart Lancaster in their Aviva Premiership opener.
Ahead of next month's naming of the senior elite player squad for the autumn international campaign, Ford created the opening try for Anthony Watson and was instrumental again for Semesa Rokoduguni's second-half clincher.
Ford also kicked 19 points as Bath, who will welcome England rugby league star Sam Burgess to the club from NRL outfit South Sydney Rabbitohs next month, took the spoils.
Cipriani also showed glimpses of class on his 100th Premiership appearance as he kicked 10 points but Bath eked out the win, denying Sale a losing bonus point.
Sale handed debuts to Chris Cusiter, Nathan Hines, Alberto de Marchi and Luke McLean while the returning Magnus Lund came off the bench to make his first appearance for Sale since 2008.
But Steve Diamond's side made the worst possible start when Bath, who included new signings Luke Arscott, Nick Auterac and former Sale man Henry Thomas, opened the scoring after just 45 seconds.
Peter Stringer played the ball to Ford and his flighted kick found Watson on the left flank and he burst cleat to score, with Ford adding the conversion to make it 7-0.
Sale attempted to gain a foothold and Cusiter began to combine well with Cipriani, with a high kick from Mark Cueto forcing Bath forward Alafoti Fa'osiliva to knock on just short of his own 22-metre line.
Bath, however, always looked capable of catching Sale on the break and centre Jonathan Joseph almost broke clear inside the left channel in the 22nd minute.
He was caught with a high tackle which won Bath a penalty which Ford converted to stretch the visitors' lead and make it 10-0.
Moments later, Bath forward Dominic Day was sinbinned for a cynical late challenge on Cipriani which left the former Wasps man needing treatment.
Cipriani soon rose to his feet to convert the subsequent penalty but Lund soon conceded a penalty shortly after his introduction from the bench and Ford kicked it to make it 13-13.
Sale then fashioned a pressure which saw Bath forced to furiously defend their line as Will Addison threatened to scamper clear before the ball was finally grounded by Mark Jennings.
Cipriani converted and he and Ford traded further penalties before half-time as Bath went in at the break with a 16-13 advantage.
Sale lost Cueto to a leg injury eight minutes after the restart but they largely dominated territory while creating few try-scoring opportunities.
Ford booted another penalty in the 56th minute but Sale struck the decisive blow in the 65th minute when number eight Mark Easter burrowed over from close range.
Cipriani converted but Ford then created space to send Rokoduguni over in the right corner with nine minutes remaining before adding the conversion and a long-range penalty to seal it.