Leicester Tigers were denied an away win by a last-minute Bath score at the Recreation Ground on Friday night.
In a first Gallagher Premiership outing since the middle of October, Tigers had led 15-8 at half-time and then by four points as the game neared its conclusion before Bath wing Will Butt reached out to score in a final attack to snatch a 19-18 win for the hosts.
Tigers had dominated the first half of the Round 10 contest with their old rivals after scores from Nemani Nadolo and James Cronin, but the second half was tighter as just penalties were added by both teams to make it 14-18 by the 70-minute mark before the final drama.
Steve Borthwick, with 10 players away on international duty, welcomed George Martin back into the forward pack where Olly Cracknell was given a first start in the No8 shirt. Tom Cowan-Dickie, Sean Jansen and Sam Edwards all made a first league appearance of the season from the bench, with recent recruit Charlie Atkinson running out for the first time in a senior fixture for the club.
Bath give a debut to full-back Jamie Shillcock and welcomed half-backs Ben Spencer and Orlando Bailey back from injury.
After the traditional Remembrance service on the pitch, Tigers got the game under way in their red shirts sporting the Poppy Appeal emblem on a bright and mild evening.
The visitors fell behind to a third-minute penalty from Orlando Bailey but were down for only a couple of minutes as patient and physical carries took them up towards the Bath line and eventually put Nadolo in one-on-one to the left-hand corner for the opening try. Freddie Burns added the conversion.
Front-rower Cronin showed his strength over the ball to win a defensive penalty moments later and Burns kicked to the corner as Bath were pushed back, conceding another penalty near the touchline. The lineout set up a strong attack featuring Nadolo and Matt Scott, but Harry Potter, starting the game at outside centre, was shut out in front of the posts.
Nadolo was involved again with a charge through the middle after Anthony Watson led the response to a clearing kick, but a Tigers knock-on gave their rivals the chance to clear.
Bath, though, were finding it tough to get out of their own territory, with a clever kick down the touchline from Richard Wigglesworth and a lineout drive which threatened to go all the way to the tryline keeping Tigers on the front foot.
Watson’s counter-attack brought a penalty for Burns to score from 35 metres on 23 minutes.
Bath debutant Jamie Shillcock had to react to stop a quick break from Wigglesworth and Chris Ashton on the Tigers’ right touchline but the red shirts quickly swarmed forward again, only for referee Tom Foley to blow for an offside in the kickchase just as dropped ball on the 22 gave the visitors a promising attacking position.
But Bath made the most of the escape as Ollie Lawrence launched an attack from deep which brought a try for Ted Hill in their first real attack of the night on 29 minutes. Bailey missed the conversion attempt with the score at 8-10.
Tigers immediately went on the offensive again and Potter was twice unfortunate not to add to the score as he was just unable to hold on to a chip from Burns in the corner and then was adjudged to have knocked-on after build-up from Nadolo, Scott, Watson and Ashton took play all the way to the tryline.
Bath remained in their own 22, though, with Olly Cracknell carrying strongly again and when the whistle went, Burns kicked to the right-hand corner. The lineout drive was stopped just a handful of metres short, but with the referee signalling another penalty.
This time, with lineout ball secure and the clock on 39 minutes, the forwards gathered and set up the maul for Cronin to emerge with the second try of the evening and a 15-8 lead at the break.
A scrum penalty early in the second half gave Bailey the chance to kick down the left touchline but skipper Hanro Liebenberg claimed the lineout to halt the threat.
But Bath had started brightly, carrying again through the middle and looking to counter-attack before having the opportunity to attack off a five-metre scrum. Tigers kept them out, first as Lawrence arrived on crash ball and then through the forwards. But when Bath finally lost possession, play came back for a penalty and Bailey added the three points.
Lineout ball from Eli Snyman provided a platform for a spell of Tigers possession until Ben Spencer read and cleared a chip into the corner, and a penalty near halfway gave the home team another chance to build in attack, only to be stepped by conceding a scrum penalty midway inside the opposition half followed by another whistle as they retreated.
Burns took on the kick from wide on the right and made no mistake to put seven points between the teams with quarter of an hour to play.
A ruck penalty from the restart gave Bath hope again, only to kick beyond the corner. But, then, they blocked out the clearing kick and gained scrum advantage from a knock-on contesting loose ball on the floor.
A penalty for a deliberate knock-on followed and Bailey kicked the points to make it 14-18 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Charlie Atkinson made his debut on 73 minutes and made a crucial catch from a Spencer kick shortly after Watson had made an important interception in the corner just as wing Will Butt thought he was on to a scoring pass.
Atkinson repeated his safe catch from another attack and Tigers then started pushing Bath back into their own half with big tackles from Martin and Harry Wells as they protected the narrow lead.
But a scrum penalty near the touchline provided fresh hope for the home team who kicked all the way into the corner with less than a minute left on the clock.
The tackling remained fierce as Tigers held firm, but Bath kept hold of the ball until, finally, the power and reach of wing Butt took him into the right-hand corner.