Bath Rugby bounced back from last weekend's heartbreaking defeat in Toulouse with a hard-fought 13-9 Heineken Cup victory against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Rec.
It may have been far from the classic running Rugby fest that had been predicted as the Dragons produced a stoic defensive performance to stem Bath's try haul to just a solitary score by replacement wing Andrew Higgins. But, the men in black, white and blue are now back in contention, and trail reigning champions Toulouse by 3 points in Pool 5.
In cool, blustery conditions, Bath had the better of the scrappy opening exchanges, eventually getting on the scoreboard after 14 minutes when Butch James slotted over a routine penalty to give the home side a 3-0 lead.
The points served to inject life into Bath's attacks as the Guinness Premiership leaders pressed deep inside Newport territory. James missed a chance to boot his side to a 6-0 lead before Joe Maddock made a blistering break to take Bath deep inside the 22. Alex Crockett, Michael Lipman and Nick Abendanon drove play on, before the Dragons finally infringed in desperation, allowing James the opportunity to kick Bath to a 6-0 lead.
With the Dragons frustrating Bath at the breakdown, the game began to boil over and when Colin Charvis was sin-binned for persistent infringement, Bath pushed to extend their lead with a much needed try and as Banahan burst through the yellow and red defence, offloading to Jonny Faamatuainu close to the line. Unfortunately for the Samoan and Bath, the final pass to Crockett went astray and the chance was lost.
As the clock counted down for the final five minutes of the first half, Michael Claassens was replaced by Scott Bemand. Bath's second try scoring opportunity followed as Stevens punched upfield, providing the space for Banahan to set off on another incisive run only for the west country side to be penalized for holding on. The Dragons cleared as Bath held a 6-0 advantage at the break.
The second half opened with an instant three points for the Dragons as Bath were penalised for going over the top. Bath were quick to respond as, immediately after the kick, Banahan exploded through the defence. However, a knock-on prevented the conclusion of the move and Bath were left with just a three point lead.
Bath were intent on imposing increasing pressure on the visiting team and a series of offences invited James to go for a penalty kick from the halfway line on 50 minutes. The South African pushed the ball wide, but when Lewis Evans was shown the yellow card for further infringement by the Dragons, Stevens made a break down the wing, offloading to Stuart Hooper as he was tackled by Richard Fussell.
The break did not reap the intended rewards however and the Dragons took back possession, displaying enough attacking play of their own to force Bath back inside their own 22 and at 58 minutes the Dragons kicked to the top left corner for a line out. Bath refused to give in and just as Dragons' prop Rhys Thomas looked good to score, Joe Maddock exploded away from Bath's territory to prohibit the try.
No sooner had replacement Andrew Higgins entered the fray than Bath finally registered the try that they dearly sought. The winger combined with Berne to score in the corner and although the referee required the assistance of the TMO, the try was rewarded much to the delight of a capacity Rec crowd. James was on target with the touchline conversion and Bath had a 13-3 lead with 13 minutes to go.
Any thoughts of Bath cutting loose were quickly halted as the Dragons registered three points after Stuart Hooper was penalised for hands in the ruck, but Bath were still sitting pretty with a 10 point lead.
A penalty from Connor at 73 minutes took the Dragons to within four points of the leaders to set up a nervous finish. With the Welsh team desperate to claw back the points and the clock showing 80 minutes, James cleared the ball into the stands to secure a 13-9 win