When skills and defence coach Brad Davis had spoken of the "freedom and abandon" that the hosts might play with, due to their recent off the pitch turmoil, he may have been surprised to see how accurate he was after 40 minutes when Bath went from safe victors in the first half to the defeated in the second.
Having enjoyed an ostensibly safe lead in the first half, with a try from captain, Alex Crockett, a conversion and three successful penalty kicks, it was not only a surprise, but a huge disappointment that the men in black managed to claw their way back to not only steal the victory but to win with a bonus point as well.
A match with such a turnaround is, unfortunately, no stranger to Bath Rugby, and if they are to remain the title contenders that they deserve to be, the "focus" that Davis spoke of earlier in the week will need not to falter for the remainder of the season as the team now enter the all-important 'business end' of their campaign.
The glorious sunshine acted as a rose-tinted veil for what opened and ended as a ferocious battle from start to finish, as Duncan Bell was the first casualty after just seven minutes as Aaron Jarvis came on as his blood replacement for a bleeding nose, following a clearance kick from Butch James that had handed the prop the ball to make a charge. Insightful play between Joe Maddock, Bell and Matt Banahan, raised the tempo of the match, as well as marking a clear indication that this game was going to be anything but a walk in the park.
However, Rob Hawkins, demonstrating his worth whilst Pieter Dixon recuperates from a knee injury, blasted down the midfield through Saracens' defence and made enough headway for James Scaysbrook and Justin Harrison to force the home side to offend. This allowed fly half James to boot three points, taking Bath into an early, marginal lead after 12 minutes.
Bath kept the pressure on, as James, Nick Abendanon and Maddock flew down the right wing, where the ball was passed swiftly to the opposite wing, for David Flatman to make more distance. Unfortunately, although Saracens were penalised, and James kicked to the corner for the try, Saracens managed to work their way free and run the ball to the other end of the pitch via Richard Houghton. But, it failed to hold Bath back for long though, as captain Alex Crockett broke through to cross the line at 22 minutes and with James kicking successfully once again, Bath enjoyed a 10-point lead.
The try acted as a catalyst to increase the tension on the field and within a couple of minutes the try scorer had taken a swipe from Kris Chesney, who was duly sin-binned for the display.
Now down to 14 men, and with just eight minutes left of the first half, Bath made a determined effort to rank up the score divide and after a close encounter at the hosts' try line, Maddock managed to clear the ball midfield for Flatman. The prop was supported by number 8 Daniel Browne and Hawkins, before the ball was lost, as the hooker charged down the wing. The pressure however was enough to incite another Saracens penalty and James slotted another three points, which was doubled after just four more minutes, which took Bath to a comfortable 16-0 lead.
However, 'comfortable' is not a word that should be used when referring to the Guinness Premiership, for as this match proved, anything can happen, and Saracens refused to go into the sheds at half-time with only a zero on their side of the scoreboard. The Vicarage Road team launched an attack from their backs that forced their way deep inside Bath's 22. James attempted to clear the ball away, but failing to get it into touch, it gave Kameli Ratuvou the space to make a good run, which was supported by Ben Skirving and finished by winger Rodd Penney for a try. The half-time score was 16 -5.
The opening seven minutes of the second half saw Bath back inside Saracen's territory and just inches away from crossing the line. But the lack of points for the men in black in the first half appeared to only inspire them to a new level of ferocity for the second and after Bath were nail bitingly close to grabbing another five, Alex Goode and Haughton made a dash down the right wing, relieving the pressure away from their territory.
The stalemate continued for a further 10 minutes as the West Country contingent attempted to battle through and get back inside Saracen's danger zone, but a run from Adam Powell, who had replaced Ratuvou at the break, was supported by a hasty Haughton. Although some strong tackling from Banahan held back the charge, Bath failed to get back to within point scoring distance until James booted the ball to the left wing where the jersey giant wing dropped over the line. However, the ref's whistle signalled that Banahan had been penalised for a questionable barge and the five points were withheld.
As the match entered its final 15 minutes, Saracens were able to claw themselves back into the game, as Haughton once more broke through the Bath defence. After a consistent barrage, hooker Alex Walker was able to scrabble through the sea of Bath jerseys on the right side of the posts and ground the ball for their second try of the match. The failed conversion by Gordon Ross kept them at just 10 points to Bath's 16.
However, the points continued to rack up on the wrong side of the score board for Bath, and even though Abendanon managed to dance his way through the black and red defence, a small grubber kick by James would have made for a perfect try, had it not been collected by Penney who ran with the ball for the entire distance of the pitch, launching himself over the opposite try line before anyone could catch him. Another failed conversion meant that Bath were still in the lead, just, but the game was now so nail-bitingly close, it was heart-stopping.
As Bath tried desperately to keep a grip on their victory, the final disappointment came in the form of Don Barrell who had managed to break down the left wing and, with Maddock right on his tail, plant the ball just over the white line. Nerve-wracking moments followed as the video referees conferred over whether Barrell's foot was in touch, but to Bath dismay, the try was awarded.
With a bonus point try, Saracens cleared the ball to sound the final whistle, signalling a bitter defeat for Bath Rugby. Final score, 20-16 to Saracens.
15. Nick Abendanon, 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Alex Crockett (c), 12. Shaun Berne, 11. Matt Banahan, 10. Butch James, 9. Scott Bemand, 1. David Flatman, 2. Rob Hawkins, 3. Duncan Bell, 4. Justin Harrison, 5. Peter Short, 6. Stuart Hooper, 7. James Scaysbrook, 8. Daniel Browne
16. Mark Lilley, 17. Aaron Jarvis, 18. Andy Beattie, 19. Jonny Faamatuainu, 20. Mike Baxter, 21. Tom Cheeseman, 22. Andrew Higgins
15. Alex Goode, 14. Richard Haughton, 13. Kameli Ratuvou, 12. Brad Barritt, 11. Rodd Penney, 10. Glen Jackson, 9. Justin Marshall, 1. Cobus Visagie, 2. Alex Walker, 3. Tom Mercey, 4. Tom Ryder, 5. Kris Chesney, 6. Chris Jack, 7. Wikus Van Heerden (c), 8. Ben Skirving
16. Andy Kyriacou, 17. Matias Aguero, 18. Don Burrell, 19. David Seymour, 20. Mickey Wilson, 21. Gordon Ross, 22. Adam Powell