In an entertaining final home match of the season, Bath – sponsored by IKON Construction – scored two early penalties through Will Flinn before visiting prop Sam Cochrane touched down to cut the lead to 6-5.
However, when Cardiff captain Aled Evans was sin-binned just after the half-hour mark, Bath took full advantage as tries from the prolific Tom Doughty and Jake Allen – one converted – gave them an 18-8 cushion going into the second period.
Prop Austin Hay extended that lead with Bath’s third try, converted by Flinn, before some tremendous defending restricted Cardiff to just a penalty try in reply, despite the hosts being reduced to 13 men at one stage.
Acting Bath captain Jack Davies, playing against his hometown side, said: “That was a massively important win. It’s crucial we keep pushing on, taking every week as it comes and getting the wins.
“Our defence was awesome, as it has been all season. Before today we’d conceded the fewest number of points in the league and our defence is probably what won us the game in the end.
“We also had some lovely moves and our second-half try was a combination of both our good defence and good attacking play.”
Victory moved Bath to within a point of fourth-placed Durham University and Head of Rugby Aaron James says the play-offs remain the team’s goal.
“We’re going to have a crack at fourth,” he said. “We’ve actually won more away than we have at home so we’re actually looking forward to our away matches to come!
“We needed this win today. We defended really well and at times we attacked well. We created some chances that we should have finished off and we’re a little disappointed not to get the bonus point but that was our fault.
“It was a really good team effort; when we were down to 13 we all bound together and so we’re really pleased to get the win.”
Bath had fought out a 15-13 victory when the teams last met in Cardiff two months ago and, while the winning margin was bigger this time, they again had to show great character to eventually take the spoils in a cracking contest.
Cardiff edged the opening exchanges but found themselves trailing after conceding three penalties in quick succession. Scrum-half Flinn was narrowly off target with his first kick from the halfway line but slotted the next two through the posts from virtually identical positions to give the hosts a 6-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Dan Rowland almost broke through to extend Bath’s lead but instead it was Cardiff who got the first try of the game, Cochrane grounding the ball after a driving maul. The conversion was missed.
Despite the setback, Bath – playing with spark and fluidity – were soon back on the front foot and a clever flick-pass from the impressive George Humphrey sent Alex Weighton racing through, only for the Number 8 to be pulled back for a knock-on.
They didn’t have to wait much longer for their opening try, though. Cardiff were penalised at a succession of lineouts, eventually leading to Evans being shown a yellow card, and Bath took advantage of the extra man to drive over for hooker Doughty’s ninth try of the season.
Flinn added the extras and then played an instrumental role in Bath’s next try, producing a wonderful feint and dart to slice through the Cardiff defence before offloading for winger Allen to touch down in the corner.
Miles Moorhouse kicked a penalty in the last minute of the first half to cut Bath’s lead to 18-8 and the hosts had to withstand some fierce pressure in the opening stages of the second period.
However, they gave themselves further breathing space when some fantastic work from the forwards led to prop Hay driving over for Bath’s third try which was again converted by Flinn.
The remaining half-hour saw Cardiff, with the wind at their backs, throw everything at Bath in an attempt to get back into the game but the hosts showed tremendous character to protect their lead.
The pressure did tell on a couple of occasions, with replacement prop Ben Gasson being sin-binned after Bath were penalised at a succession of scrums. Referee Anthony Woodthorpe eventually awarded Cardiff a penalty try which Moorhouse converted with 13 minutes remaining.
Home fly-half Humphrey was also shown a yellow card moments later for a deliberate knock-on but Bath’s 13 men defended heroically to secure a vital victory.
The University of Bath will conclude the regular Super League season with three away fixtures against teams above them in the table – at Loughborough University on February 8, Exeter University on February 15 and Durham University on February 22.
The top four teams will go into the end-of-season play-offs, with the finalists competing at Twickenham for the inaugural Super League title.
University of Bath starting XV: 1 Jack Buckingham, 2 Tom Doughty, 3 Austin Hay, 4 Mike Snook, 5 Scott Russell, 6 Jack Davies, 7 Adam McCarthy, 8 Alex Weighton, 9 Will Flinn, 10 George Humphrey, 11 Jake Allen, 12 Charlie Dunbar, 13 Emyr Gynnedd, 14 Dan Rowland, 15 Craig Duncan. Replacements: 16 George Frampton, 17 Greg Palmer, 18 Ben Gasson, 19 Steffan Osman Wiggan, 20 Chris Barry, 21 Jack Turner, 22 Brandon Bellamin.
Tries: Doughty, Allen, Hay.
Conversions: Flinn 2.
Penalties: Flinn 2.
Cardiff Met starting XV: 1 Sam Cochrane, 2 Shawn Howard, 3 Ian Etheridge, 4 James Little, 5 Edoardo Balocco, 6 John Humphreys, 7 Josh Poole, 8 Aled Evans (c), 9 James Hall, 10 George Simpson, 11 Declan Hadley, 12 Miles Moorhouse, 13 Corey Whane, 14 Tom Benjamin, 15 Ollie Glasse. Replacements: 16 Ryan Spriggs, 17 Will Davies King, 18 Jonathan Clout, 19 Joe Jackson, 20 Harvey Scott, 21 Ben Williams, 22 Luke Northmore.
Tries: Cochrane, penalty.
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.
Assistant officials: George Selwood, Andrew Wigley.