A typically tense derby at the Recreation Ground on a chilly November evening concluded with victory for the visitors, as high-flying Bristol eventually overcame a committed Bath team 19-12.
A converted try by Lee Robinson was the difference between the sides, but Bath pick up a valuable losing bonus point from the result, and Acting Head Coach Steve Meehan was pleased with the commitment of the team: "The effort was great; it was like it was a fortnight ago against London Irish and after those sort of performances you can't question their character. It was a question of missed opportunities because we did have our chances, we went very close at times, but we put ourselves under so much pressure in the second half that we gave Bristol too many opportunities."
Bath's intent was evident from the start. From a lineout in the second minute, the forwards drove at the Bristol pack, and as the ball was released, the visitors came offside, giving Olly Barkley an early chance at goal, but the kick passed the left-hand upright. With five minutes on the clock, Bristol had a chance themselves, when Danny Grewcock was penalised for not rolling away from the tackle after a scrum on Bath's 22. Hill made no mistake, and Bristol took the lead.
Minutes later, the television referee was called in to adjudicate on a near score by Rob Hawkins. Barkley's kick had taken Bath well into the visitors' half, Bristol took the lineout quickly and kicked to Jonny Faamatuainu. His run set up several phases of attacking play before the ball reached the Bath hooker, but Bristol's covering tacklers just shoved him into touch. The home side kept up the pressure, spurning a kick at goal as Bristol strayed offside. But despite three successive lineouts and a scrum, Bath could not make anything of the chance, and Bristol regained the ball with a free kick.
By midway through the first half, the home team had had the lion's share of possession, and with the next kickable penalty, given for offside, Barkley equalised. Another opportunity fell to the centre after a useful box-kick by Nick Walshe, but it scudded off the boot. Still, on the half hour he made good another attempt to take Bath ahead.
When Dan Ward-Smith broke off a scrum in his own half, the visiting side showed the form that has taken them to the top of the Guinness Premiership. Perry's tackle brought him down, but as play continued towards the Hamptons Stand, there was relief for the home crowd when Bristol knocked on. Berne cleared from the scrum, but Bristol retained possession and battered Bath's defensive line. Given a penalty, they first took a scrum, but the clock had wound down when Bath were penalised again, so Hill opted to kick at goal and levelled the scores at the break.
Bath attacked from the restart, and a superb break by Maddock, who pirouetted round the advancing defence, took play within ten metres of the tryline, but the defenders eventually hauled Maddock down and the ball was lost forward. The most extended period pf pressure yet by Bristol ensued, after a penalty kick to touch by Hill set up an attacking lineout just metres out. Their attack was thwarted once when wing Robinson was hustled into touch by Matt Perry, and again when Andy Beattie snaffled Bristol ball at the ruck. But eventually Bath conceded a penalty in front of the posts, and Hill made no mistake.
Minutes later, though, Barkley knocked over an excellent attempt from 40 metres as Bristol failed to roll away in the tackle. Hill then took the visitors ahead with another penalty, but it remained tense until Robinson scythed through two Bath defenders for the first try of the match, which Hill converted. Bath responded with a vigorous attack which allowed Barkley to narrow the deficit with a penalty kick for offside.
As the match veered into injury time, Hill lined up another penalty kick that would have left Bath needing two scores to win, but the hitherto accurate fly-half missed. However, the countdown clock signalled time with Bristol still in possession, and they booted out the ball to leave the Rec victorious for only the second time in their history.
Meehan picked out a failure to get out of their own half, and some poor tactical kicking as particular reasons for the loss, but he is confident that, with continued hard work, a win is just around the corner: "There's too much talent, and they are working too hard for them to be denied. It'll come, they are almost there. It's hugely disappointing for the players. You can't walk off the field after that and feel anything but pride for them."
7: Penalty Hill, 0-3
23: Pen Barkley, 3-3
30: Pen Barkley, 6-3
40+8: Pen Hill, 6-6
51: Pen Hill, 6-9
55: Pen Barkley, 9-9
63: Pen Hill, 9-12
69: Try Robinson, Conversion Hill, 9-19
74: Pen Barkley, 12-19
BATH: 15. M Perry 14. J Maddock 13. O Barkley 12. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 11. N Abendanon (Walker, 61) 10. S Berne 9. N Walshe 1. D Barnes 2. R Hawkins 3. D Flatman (Ovens, 78) 4. P Short 5. D Grewcock 6. A Beattie (captain) 7. J Scaysbrook 8. J Faamatuainu
Replacements: 16. D Ward 17. L Ovens 18. H Louw 19. C Goodman 20. P Travagli 21. C Walker 22. D Bory
BRISTOL: 15. L Arscott 14. L Robinson 13. N Brew 12. R Higgitt 11. C Morgan 10. D Hill 9. B O'Riordan 1. D 2. M Regan (Blaney, 80+2) 3. D Crompton 4. R Winters 5. G Llewellyn (captain) 6. N Budgett (To'oala, 52) 7. J El Abd 8.D Ward-Smith
Replacements: 16. D Blaney 17. A Clarke 18. G Lewis 19. A To'oala 20. G Nicholls 21.J Strange 22. S Cox
Referee: R Maybank