Jonathan Joseph used Bath’s return to a happy hunting ground to press his claim for an England recall, but a 26-19 victory over Bristol came at the cost of a shoulder injury to Joe Cokanasiga.
Joseph claimed his first try at Twickenham for 18 months and brilliantly set up the second for centre colleague Jamie Roberts in a bonus-point win that heightens the Bears’ Gallagher Premiership relegation fears.
It is an arena that has provided 11 of Joseph’s 17 international tries, but the Lion’s last cap was over a year ago with England preferring Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi in the number 13 jersey.
None of Eddie Jones’ coaching staff were present in a 60,152 crowd at Twickenham to witness his man-of-the-match contribution, and they also missed Cokanasiga being withdrawn at half-time.
The powerful Fiji-born wing hurt his shoulder in the act of scoring the third of Bath’s four tries and, having initially played on, he was in obvious discomfort and was forced to pull out.
The interval penalty count was 8-0 in Bristol’s favour and it was this remarkable statistic that kept them in contention, with fly-half Callum Sheedy landing four penalties.
But Rhys Priestland celebrated his new two-year contract – announced on Friday – by running in the 56th-minute try that ultimately proved decisive, although the Bears were at least able to clinch a losing bonus point when Dan Thomas went over.
Bath were rampant in the opening 10 minutes, with Joseph revelling in his return to Twickenham by scoring the first try and setting up the second.
Poor defending contributed to both scores but it still took skill for Joseph to wriggle through two tackles to touch down, before his clever delayed grubber enabled Roberts to gather and cross.
To continue the theme of Joseph’s influential start, the 27-year-old produced a turnover and a well-timed run out of the defensive line to halt two promising Bristol attacks in their tracks.
Next up it was Cokanasiga’s turn to batter the Bears as strong carries from Sam Underhill and Roberts set up position just short of the line, giving the England wing the chance to pick up and drive over.
Bath had been ruthless in the opposition half but it was Bristol who had played most of the rugby only to be let down by some ragged play.
And working in their favour was their opponents’ collapse in discipline that meant Sheedy was able to kick three penalties in quick succession.
A 19-3 deficit was pegged back to 19-12 and, as the second half got under way without the injured Cokanasiga, Bristol were on top with gifted hooker Harry Thacker using his athleticism to good effect.
The Bears’ handling was abysmal, however, to ruin two moments of attacking promise, while Tusi Pisi was smashed backwards by a double tackle from Priestland and Underhill.
Bristol finally conceded their first penalty in the 55th minute – the count was a remarkable 11-1 in their favour at this stage – but Priestland could only steer a kick taken in front of the posts on to the upright.
The error was soon erased as the Welshman hacked on a ball that had been knocked loose during a Bears backline move and stabbed it over the whitewash to touch down.
Openside Thomas gave Bristol hope by rounding off a flowing team try in the 70th minute and when Ian Madigan landed the conversion, the losing bonus point was in the bag.