A last-minute try by Marko Stanojevic decided a tight match at the Memorial Ground in favour of the home side, Bristol winning 22-15 in Bath's first EDF Energy Cup match.
It also extended Bristol's unbeaten run to five, and Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, was as ever frank in expressing his disappointment with the performance. "I thought that we put ourselves under unnecessary pressure in the first half," he said. "We didn't play sensibly, and made some individual errors that aren't acceptable at this level, and when we had opportunities we didn't finish them off."
Bristol had an early chance for points through a penalty attempt by Danny Gray, but it hit the woodwork. But he made amends in the sixth minute when he slotted a drop goal after Chris Malone had seen the second of two kicks in a row bounce over the Bristol dead-ball line, resulting in a scrum for Bristol back in the Bath 22.
Bath were pinned back in their half for the opening quarter of an hour or so, but found themselves within scoring distance when a mis-pass by Shaun Berne allowed first Matt Perry and then Ian Davey the chance to show their pace and take Bath well into the other half. Bristol conceded a penalty, which Malone converted to level the scores.
But Bristol, though much altered from the side that had beaten Wasps the week before, were not put off playing adventurous rugby by the damp conditions left by torrential rain before kick-off, and prop Jason Hobson took the Bath defence by surprise when he burst out of a ruck and over the line for a try.
Life was not made any easier for the visitors when Malone was sent to the sin-bin for tripping a Bristol player. But against the odds, Duncan Bell eased their concerns by scoring a try after a penalty and lineout drive, when Bristol had come into the maul offside. Neither conversion having been kicked, the scores were level again and remained so at half-time, Gray having missed a penalty attempt just before.
Just after the restart, a fine tackle by Davey stopped Brian O'Riordan from scoring in the right-hand corner after David Blaney had broken off a scrum down the blindside and passed back-handed to his scrum-half. But the danger was only averted momentarily, for Walter Pozzebon skidded over, set up by a five-metre scrum.
Suddenly, though, Bath shifted up a gear. From his own half, Berne chipped over the advancing defence and caught the ball. With two men outside him, he headed for the line, but was pulled down short by David Lemi. Fortunately, Michael Stephenson was on hand and took the ball over to score. Malone added the two points.
Andy Williams nearly added to the scores with a tapped penalty on the Bristol ten-metre line. He ran almost the try line but the ball went forward as the cover tackle caught up with him. From the resulting scrum, Bristol then knocked on themselves and a string of penalties and knock-ons saw Bath camped on their line for some minutes, but were frustratingly unable to convert their possession into points.
Instead, Bristol worked their way back over halfway with a series of penalties, and with full-time approaching, Stanojevic crossed in the right-hand corner, and Gray's conversion sealed the win.
Meehan was pleased with certain players, naming Davey, making his first-team debut, and James Scaysbrook, for his second-half efforts. But his final assessment summed up the side's problems at the present: "At times we played some good rugby today but it's difficult when you play in fits and starts."
6: Drop goal Gray, 3-0
18: Penalty Malone, 3-3
24: Try Hobson, 8-3
33: Try Bell, 8-8
47: Try Pozzebon, Conversion Gray, 15-8
51: Try Stephenson, Con Malone, 15-15
80: Try Stanojevic, Con Gray, 22-15
BATH: 15. M Perry 14. M Stephenson 13. T Cheeseman 12. S Berne (Maddock, 57) 11. I Davey 10. C Malone (sin-bin: 27-39) 9. A Williams (Travagli, 70) 1. D Barnes (Flatman, 52) 2. R Hawkins (Brooker, 52) 3. D Bell (Barnes, 78) 4. R Fidler (Smith, 48) 5. J Faamatuainu 6. J Scaysbrook 7. C Goodman (Short, 52) 8. I Feaunati (captain)
Replacements: 16. C Brooker 17. D Flatman 18. P Short 19. D Smith 20. P Travagli 21. J Maddock 22. N Abendanon
BRISTOL: 15. B Stortoni (Arscott, 78) 14. M Stanojevic 13. W Pozzebon 12. A Reay 11. D Lemi 10. D Gray 9. B O'Riordan 1. A Clarke (Irish, 68) 2. D Blaney (Nelson, 62) 3. J Hobson (Thompson, 74) 4. M Sambucetti (Attwood, 79) 5. N Budgett 6. A To'oala (Martin-Redman, 60) 7. C Short (captain) 8. G Lewis
Replacements: 16. M Irish 17. S Nelson 18. D Attwood 19. R Martin-Redman 20. W Thomson 21. G Nicholls 22. L Arscott
Referee: S Davey