Bath Rugby made it a 100th anniversary to remember as they held off defending Aviva Premiership champions Leicester Tigers to claim a dramatic 27-20 win at the Rec.
The two sides first met exactly a century ago at Welford Road, the Tigers running out 19-5 victors on that occasion, but first-half tries from Jonathan Joseph and Matt Banahan meant it was Bath who just had enough to emerge on top.
Both Logovi’i Mulipola and Tom Youngs were sent to the sin bin for the visitors in the first-half and Bath, prompted by Tigers old boy George Ford who finished with 17 points, took full advantage.
Trailing 21-3 at the break, the Tigers came roaring back as Steve Mafi, Ed Slater and Vereniki Goneva all went over but the hosts held on for a second win on the spin that serves notice of their top-four ambitions.
Leicester were looking to begin the season with back-to-back wins for the first time in five years and David Mele, who took over the kicking duties from Ryan Lamb who was wayward last weekend against Worcester Warriors, slotted the first penalty of the game.
Ford responded in kind with a simple penalty in the 14th minute, the first of what the Bath fans will be hoping are many at the Rec for the 20-year-old.
Moments later and Banahan denied Scott Hamilton a try with a crucial tackle and no sooner had they weathered the storm than Joseph was streaking clear for the first try of his Bath career.
The former London Irish centre intercepted a loose pass from Lamb inside his own half, had too much pace for the scrambling defence and coasted clear for the simplest of tries, Ford adding the extras and the hosts were 10-3 to the good.
The visitors were clearly struggling with their discipline, Mele angering referee Greg Garner repeatedly at scrum time before Mulipola made their job even harder, the prop sent to the sin bin in the 26th minute for a shoulder charge on Dave Attwood.
Ford added a penalty on the half hour for 13-3 but it was the Tigers who came close to the next try of the game.
Adam Thompstone collected a loose kick from Ford and streaked clear down the right but the 20-year-old fly-half made up for his error by holding up the winger over the tryline.
Tigers were holding on for the return of Mulipola but before they were back to their full complement the visitors had a second front-rower in the form of Youngs sent to the sin-bin for collapsing an attacking Bath maul.
Ford slotted the subsequent penalty for 16-3 but the Tigers looked to have survived the intervening two minutes when they were down to 13 men, indeed they almost scored a try of their own.
Mulipola was due to come back onto the pitch but in a breathless passage of play he could only look on as the 13 men of Tigers pressed deep into the opposition 22.
The ball did not go dead however and after Bath eventually forced the turnover they went up the other end and landed the sucker-punch.
Semesa Rokoduguni made the initial break and when Gavin Henson’s perfect pass released Banahan down the left Tigers were too stretched and the England international powered over for Bath’s second try.
Ford could not add the extras from the touchline but the half-time whistle went with the hosts 21-3 ahead.
The Tigers needed an early response in the second half and no sooner were both Youngs and Mulipola back on the field than they got their first try, Mafi going over in the corner after a neat offload from Thompstone for 21-8.
Mele could not add the conversion but it was the Tigers in the ascendancy now and Hamilton ’s swerving break nearly yielded another try straight after.
But the winger was dragged down and subsequently injured, another name on the already lengthy Tigers casualty list.
A sickening clash of heads between Niall Morris and Ford then delayed the game although both players managed to continue and it was still the Tigers who had the impetus.
Slater barged over on the hour mark and when Mele eventually found his range from the tee to convert from the left touchline it was suddenly only 21-15.
A Ford penalty with less than a quarter of an hour to go settled Bath’s nerves and restored a nine-point cushion.
But the drama was far from over and Goneva dived over for his second try in as many games after another fine Thompstone offload, Mele this time unable to convert and it was 24-20.
Mele’s inconsistency from the tee continued and his penalty attempt from halfway with nine minutes left was nowhere near.
Bath replacement hooker Ross Batty then needed a lengthy bit of treatment before being stretchered off but Ford missed the chance to ice the win when he pulled a 75th minute penalty wide.
It mattered not though and Ford slotted his fifth penalty as time expired from right in front as Bath held on to claim a victory that sounds a warning shot to the rest of the Aviva Premiership.