Bath punished an ill-disciplined London Irish display at The Rec to pick up a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions.
Irish had three players sent to the sin-bin and conceded 23 penalties, allowing Bath to secure their second Aviva Premiership bonus-point win on the bounce.
Anthony Perenise scored a try in the final minute to secure the much-needed bonus point as Gary Gold’s side gave their hopes of a top-six finish a huge boost.
The win was somewhat overshadowed by injuries to fly-half Stephen Donald and flanker Francois Louw with both forced to depart the field before half-time.
Donald could be out for a month and Gold said: “Stephen has popped a cartilage in his rib and Flow has done quite a weird thing where his rib has pinched his hip, so he’s completely hyper-extended,” said Gold.
“He’s in a lot of pain, but initially it doesn’t seem like there is a break, so hopefully he can be right.
“We are really happy with that as a performance and it was a very good Irish team and we knew we were going to have to bring our A-game to beat them.
“I am really happy for the guys that they are now getting a bit of a return on their investments but I’m really keen to emphasise that I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves.
“We are getting some things right but again it was not a great first-half performance.
“We had a couple of opportunities which we could have finished but I suppose the exciting part is that there is still a lot of room to improve.
“The basics are there, the forwards are setting us a good platform, I hope we are playing an entertaining game, and we are scoring tries.”
Tom Homer fired Irish ahead when they got themselves in Bath territory for the first time and, two minutes later, a flying counter-attack by Guy Armitage and Topsy Ojo led to another penalty, which Homer landed with ease.
Ojo’s high tackle on Tom Biggs allowed Donald to halve the deficit but that was his last action of the game, with the Bath fly-half limping from the field clutching his ribs.
Bath also lost flanker Louw after a heavy blow to the hip, and their plight could have been much worse had Homer not missed a relatively routine kick in front of the posts.
Bathtook the lead on the half-hour mark when Ojo was again penalised for a high tackle on Biggs. Tom Heathcote put the winger in space in the corner and when Ojo stopped Biggs illegally, the Irish back was sent to the sin-bin and a penalty try awarded.
Heathcote converted before playing a key role in Bath’s second try as the home side turned the screw. The replacement fly-half caught a difficult pass from Peter Stringer and sent the ball wide to Nick Abendanon, who took the ball at pace outside the 22 before charging past Marlande Yarde and over the whitewash.
Heathcote again added the extras but Irish closed the gap with the final play off the half, as Homer landed his third kick of the day from close range.
Fly-half Heathcote continued the hosts’ momentum with a penalty shortly after the restart, and added another soon afterwards when Homer was shown a yellow card for killing the ball.
But Abendanon’s 50-metre run was halted just short of the line by a fine Ojo tackle, while Dominic Day knocked on when a driving maul by the home pack pushed its way over the whitewash.
Irish replacement Jack Moates touched down following a brilliant break by Yarde, but Ian Humphreys’ conversion provided their last points of the day.
Again a sin-binning hindered the visitors’ chances, with the departure of Jon Fisher ensuring Irish would finish the game a man short.
Bath capitalised and replacement props Nathan Catt and Perenise both barrelled over from close range to secure the bonus point, which could prove crucial in the end.
The acid test of Bath’s top-six credentials will come on Saturday when they travel to take on Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
Bath: Abendanon, Agulla (Rokoduguni 74), Banahan, Eastmond, Biggs, Donald (Heathcote 22), Stringer, James (Catt 72), Webber (Batty 72), Wilson (Perenise 64), Day (Spencer 64), Attwood, Louw (Gilbert 26), Fearns, Skirving. Replacement not used: Cook.
Scorers: Tries – Penalty, Abendanon, Catt, Perenise. Cons – Heathcote 4 Pens – Donald, Heathcote 3
London Irish: Homer, Ojo, Armitage, Geraghty (Shingler 75), Yarde, Humphreys, Phibbs (Moates 51), Lahiff (Yanuyanutawa 65), Lawson (Mayhew 51), Aulika (Halavatau 46), Skivington, Evans (Low 75), Garvey (Fisher 54), Sinclair (Gibson 51), Treviranus.
Scorers: Try – Moates. Con – Humphreys Pens – Homer 3
Referee: David Rose