Champions Leicester saw their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title hopes suffer another setback after Bath brushed them aside at the Recreation Ground.
While Bath moved second in the table behind west country rivals Gloucester, Leicester slipped to sixth place. And with just three league games left, the Tigers could now struggle to claim a play-off place.
Heineken Cup qualification next season still looks a strong bet, but Leicester look destined for a season without silverware under head coach Marcelo Loffreda.
Just three days after suffering an emphatic defeat against EDF Energy Cup final opponents the Ospreys at Twickenham, a much-changed Tigers side was similarly eclipsed.
Bath had the game wrapped up by half-time following tries from prop Matt Stevens, hooker Lee Mears and wing Matt Banahan, whose ninth Premiership try of the season took him level with leading marksman Lesley Vainikolo.
Fit-again Springboks World Cup star Butch James chipped in with three penalties and a conversion, while Leicester could only muster an Ian Humphreys try in response.
Substitute scrum-half Frank Murphy added a second Tigers touchdown during the closing minutes, but bonus points eluded both sides, which ultimately could damage Leicester far more than Bath.
James returned to the Bath line-up for his first start since suffering a dislocated shoulder more than 11 weeks ago, while six England forwards featured in a powerful home pack.
Leicester fielded a solitary survivor from Twickenham in lock Ben Kay, who captained the side, with internationals Martin Corry and Aaron Mauger among those on bench duty.
Bath made a blistering start, monopolising possession from the kick-off, and that pressure was rewarded with a try inside three minutes.
Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu blasted through two attempted tackles, and although Tigers’ defence kept him out, Bath easily worked space for Stevens to crash over.
James missed the conversion – he made amends by slotting a 15th-minute penalty – and had Bath kept their composure in attack, Leicester would have been finished inside the opening quarter.
Tigers spent its entire duration pinned deep inside their own half, struggling to withstand a fiercely-sustained Bath onslaught.
And it came as no surprise when Leicester resorted to illegal means as they grew increasingly frustrated by an ability to gain a foothold in the contest.
Centre Ayoola Erinle was sin-binned for a technical infringement, with James booting the resulting penalty, before Bath blew a gilt-edged chance four minutes before half-time.
The impressive Fuimaono-Sapolu sprinted into space, before quickly recycled possession left flanker Jonny Faamatuainu with what appeared to be a simple scoring opportunity.
But he was adjudged to have knocked on as he dived over the line, handing Leicester a remarkable reprieve.
With Erinle still off though, Bath effectively ended the game as a contest by adding two further tries that rewarded an overwhelming degree of control.
Mears powered through an inviting gap in Leicester’s defence for a touchdown that James converted, then deep into first-half injury time Banahan pounced.
James failed to add the extras, but a 23-0 interval lead left Bath one try short of a bonus point and Leicester in disarray.
Humphreys’ clever kick-and-catch saw Leicester open the second-half scoring, and they enjoyed far greater control and cohesion during a third quarter that saw them keep Bath scoreless.
Corry’s arrival underpinned a far more organised Tigers effort, and Bath boss Steve Meehan made a triple change 12 minutes from time – including sending on England back Olly Barkley – in an attempt to raise the tempo.
But scrum-half Michael Claassens was then sin-binned for hands in the ruck, suggesting a bonus point score might prove out of reach after all.
And when Banahan received a yellow card for holding back Murphy off the ball, Bath found themselves down to 13 men.
Leicester looked to take advantage of Bath’s two-man deficit, yet poor communication between Corry and Kay forfeited a promising attacking position, before substitute number eight Jordan Crane spilled a straightforward pass that epitomised Tigers’ night as the rain fell.
Murphy though, then crossed for a controversial try – the touch judge appeared to rule Tom Croft had been tackled into touch before he delivered a scoring pass – that Humphreys converted.