A wonder try from prop Henry Thomas helped lift Bath Rugby to second place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table as they condemned London Irish to a fourth consecutive league defeat.
England international Thomas burst through the defence and held off a number of would-be tacklers early in the second half for a memorable score at the Madejski Stadium.
The platform for victory was established at the scrum as Bath dominated throughout and they were in fact awarded a first-half penalty try when Irish were penalised at scrum-time.
David Paice and James Short went over for Irish in the second period but scrum-half Chris Cook’s score meant that the visitors were always largely in control.
Bath welcomed the likes of Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni back from England duty and into their starting XV.
But it was the hosts who made a fast start as stand-in captain Shane Geraghty, who took the armband from the injured George Skivington, kicked an early penalty.
Bath responded immediately and fly-half Gavin Henson made it 3-3 from the tee.
Geraghty then missed the opportunity to put Irish ahead dragging a penalty wide, while Henson missed a Bath penalty from 45 metres.
But the Welshman did put the visitors ahead minutes later, slotting his kick between the uprights after Bath made an impression at the scrum to earn a penalty.
The Exiles had the chance to level when returning centre Eastmond was penalised for not releasing at the tackle, but Geraghty failed to bisect the posts.
Irish’s task was then made harder as tighthead prop Halani Aulika was sent to the sin bin for repeated offending from the hosts and Henson’s third penalty put Bath 9-3 ahead.
To counter the man deficit, Irish brought winger Topsy Ojo into the back row when Bath won a five-metre scrum.
But Ojo couldn’t stop the visitors notching the first try of the afternoon as foul play by Irish at the set-piece left the referee no choice but to award a penalty try, Henson adding the extras.
The Exiles did win a penalty at the line-out shortly before half-time and Geraghty converted to cut the deficit to 6-16 at the break.
Bath started the second half strongly with Thomas’s try just a minute after the interval.
Henson’s pass found the prop and he shrugged off a number of challenges to score – Henson converting.
That try finally seemed to spark the home side into life as their talented backline started to play more expansive, running rugby.
But they had their forwards to thank for getting them back in the game as a number of phases ended with Paice barrelling over from close range for his first try of the season.
Geraghty slotted the extras to close the gap to ten points before the home side continued their second-half revival with another Geraghty penalty to cut Bath’s advantage to 23-16.
But the West Country side responded and earned yet another penalty at the scrum, which Henson kicked to make it a 10-point lead.
And the visitors scored their third try to essentially wrap the game up when scrum-half Cook broke away and evaded two tackles to touch down, Henson converting to make it 33-16.
But Irish refused to go down quietly and when Bath’s Dominic Day was sent to the sin bin, Short fought his way through to give the home side hope with five minutes to go, Geraghty converting.
The Exiles continued to push forward but the final whistle was music to Bath ears as they held out for the 33-23 victory, leaving their opponents second-bottom in the league.
This Christmas, Premiership Rugby is offering fans a special gift with selected tickets for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final 2015. Click here to find out about this limited offer