Bath Rugby booked their place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a hard-earned 35-27 victory over Zebre.
Home wing Pierre Bruno scored a first-half hat-trick in 40 minutes which saw Joe Cokanasiga and Will Stuart add their names to the scoresheet.
Centurion Beno Obano and Anthony Watson stretched the visitors into a commanding position and Jacques du Toit sealed the win late. Ben Spencer was perfect with every single kick.
Zebre got off to a fine start in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi sunshine, taking the lead after two minutes.
A couple of penalties helped the hosts canter forward and despite Cokanasiga and Sam Underhill spoiling ball on their own line, former Italy Under-20 international Bruno collected the scraps to bundle over.
Bath did manage to mount a few in-roads in the minutes that proceeded. Max Ojomoh, on his first European outing, grabbed possession early on in the city his father, Steve, played in during the end of his career; the more experienced Anthony Watson made attempts to slide on the outside.
Try as they did to immediately draw level, a bit of fortune went in the way of Zebre. Carlo Canna’s effort to drill a low kick in behind was thwarted by a Max Clark block, however a deflection allowed for an effective bounce into Bruno’s bread basket and the wing had a simple finish.
Stuart Hooper’s side remained focus and didn’t allow the scoreboard to affect them. Up front, they were dominant at scrum time and it was a first-phase move from a set-piece which led to their first points.
Clark and Semesa Rokoduguni ran key decoy lines and Orlando Bailey, also making his European debut, zipped the ball behind the duo whose angles created space out wide for Cokanasiga to steam into the corner.
The early exchanges seemed made for wing success – no more so than for Zebre flyer Bruno who scooted in for a first-half hat-trick.
Picking from a messy breakdown which could have seen Bath awarded a penalty, the 24-year-old spotted space in behind and won the foot race to his own punt to dot down.
Bath were reduced to 14 men when Miles Reid was sin-binned for a high tackle, but with a man less, they very nearly had a second try through Cokanasiga.
The England international nudged ahead and the ball clipped off the heels of a Zebre player. Ben Spencer swooped in and magically fed Clark through his legs. The centre then played one-handed back to Cokanasiga who ran home. However, it was chalked off due to Spencer advancing from an offside position.
With their tails up, Bath did cross for a deserved try on the stroke of half-time. Brilliantly explosive at the scrum, tighthead Stuart picked and powered to the line and Spencer’s conversion brought the Blue, Black and Whites to within seven at the break.
Stuart thought he had a second in the opening minutes of the second half, but he was deemed to have been held up. From the resulting scrum, Taulupe Faletau carried to within a metre and on his 100th Bath appearance, Obano muscled his way to the whitewash.
At 21-21, it was as even as the scoreline suggested. Most of play came in the middle of the park with neither XV able to breach the men in front of them until the hour.
Zebre had Eduardo Bello sin binned after he struggled with Obano’s power in the front row and Bath made the most of their numerical advantage.
In full flight, Watson’s inside pop to Ojomoh just evaded the Academy centre. The England full-back had some joy a couple of phases later, combining with another Academy player in Bailey who skipper through and executed a perfect two-on-one.
Paolo Pescetto slotted two penalties to set up a tense one-point game, but Bath’s composure and physicality saw them comfortably see out the game with du Toit crossing for a late try to round things off in the closing stages.
15. Anthony Watson, 14. Semesa Rokoduguni, 13. Max Clark, 12. Max Ojomoh, 11. Joe Cokanasiga, 10. Orlando Bailey, 9. Ben Spencer; 1. Beno Obano, 2. Jack Walker, 3. Will Stuart, 4. Josh McNally ©, 5. Elliott Stooke, 6. Miles Reid, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16. Jacques du Toit, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Will Spencer, 20. Josh Bayliss, 21. Will Chudley, 22. Max Wright, 23. Alex Gray
15. Gabriele Di Giulio, 14. Pierre Bruno, 13. Tommaso Boni ©, 12. Enrico Lucchin, 11. Giovanni D’Onofrio, 10. Carlo Canna, 9. Marcello Violi; 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Luca Bigi, 3. Giosué Zilocchi, 4. David Sisi, 5. Ian Nagle, 6. Potu Junior Leavasa, 7. Maxime Mbandà, 8. Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: 16. Oliviero Fabiani, 17. Andrea Lovotti, 18. Eduardo Bello, 19. Leonard Krumov, 20. Iacopo Bianchi, 21. Joshua Renton, 22. Paolo Pescetto, 23. Federico Mori