Bath boosted their hopes of Heineken Cup qualification with a scratchy win over their west country rivals Exeter, but did nothing to suggest they are serious contenders for the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs.
The match turned on a typically muscular try by Matt Banahan on the stroke of half-time and the England three-quarter provided a trademark flick pass for centre Matt Carraro to score immediately after the break.
The game was not wrapped up, however, until replacement prop Nathan Catt burst out of his own 22, 10 minutes from time to lay on the third try for scrum-half Michael Claassens. Exeter's try scorers were full-back Luke Arscott in the first half and Matt Jess with a consolation effort.
Despite the dip in form which has seen them sink to seventh place, Bath went into today's game against Exeter with two games in hand on the sides immediately above them – London Irish and Harlequins.
Claassens was nearly gifted a chargedown try in the opening seconds but Gareth Steenson came to the rescue by claiming the bouncing ball. The Exeter fly-half opened the scoring in the sixth minutes after Butch James fluffed a 22 drop-out and the Bath scrum disintegrated.
Steenson then broke through a static Bath defensive line but his team-mates failed to finish off the chance, Carraro pulling off a try saving tackle on Jason Shoemark. With the exception of Claassens however, the home side looked anything but play-off contenders.
The try that Exeter so richly deserved came after 17 minutes when Arscott spun out of a tackle on his own 10 metre line, chipped over the advancing Sam Vesty and regathered to score. Steenson was wide with the conversion.
Bath threatened briefly when Claassens charged down Junior Poluleuligaga again but, having set up a ruck under the posts, the Bath pack was humiliatingly driven off the ball. James eventually pulled back three points with a 24th-minute penalty.
It took a tap tackle at the other end by James to deny Sireli Naqelevuki and when skipper Richard Baxter broke away the No 8 passed to opponent Guy Mercer. Bath were hanging on by their fingertips. All Exeter's efforts were being undermined by their indiscipline at the breakdown and James made it 6-8 with a close range penalty on 36 minutes.
Back came the Devon side as Steenson steered a kick to the corner but Bath stole possession and Banahan broke away. Baxter snuffed out the danger at the other but Bath maintained the pressure and Banahan burst on to a short pass from James to score at the posts. James added the conversion to give the home team an unlikely 13-8 lead.
For a side that looked so hesitant and error-prone in the first half, Bath came out for the second half totally transformed.
It took only three minutes to add to the lead as quick line-out possession and slick passing released Carraro to score on the right. James' conversion was wide but the fly-half added a penalty five minutes later when the Exeter front row stood up under pressure.
Steenson landed a penalty from 40 metres to cut Bath's lead to 21-11 but the home side were now on the front foot. The Exeter pack was beginning to wilt in the heat and on 59 minutes former Bath player James Scaysbrook was shown the yellow card for persistent infringement.
Bath were held up over the line from the ensuing line-out. Exeter were then penalised twice in a series of reset scrums, with a warning from referee Martin Fox. When the next scrum went down, tighthead Hoani Tui joined Scaysbrook in the bin but Bath were penalised trying to force their way over the line.
It was nearly 10 minutes before 13-man Exeter conceded any points but it was a spectacular effort as Catt sped away from his own 22, making 50 metres before eventually finding Claassens in support. James' conversion was wide. Exeter hit back with a late try from wing Jess, converted by Ignacio Mieres.