Buoyed by their recent win over Hartpury and comeback draw at Leeds Beckett, Bath stormed out of the blocks and were 19-0 up inside as many minutes thanks to two sparkling tries from full-back Will Hughes (pictured) either side of an Austin Hay touchdown.
However, Durham managed to turn the tables in the second quarter as Joe Duffy and captain Justin Clegg both touched down. Bath also conceded a penalty try in between those efforts as the sides went in level at half-time.
When Benjamin Fowles put Durham ahead for the first time from a lineout drive, Bath could have allowed their heads to drop but they managed to regain the momentum with the aid of some excellent kicks from fly-half Will Flinn.
A penalty cut the deficit to 24-22, then Flinn converted a Chris Barry try moments later before kicking another penalty to give Bath an eight-point cushion.
Durham tried to respond again in the closing stages but Bath – sponsored by IKON Construction and supported by Investigo – stood firm to secure a 32-24 victory which moves them up to sixth in the table.
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Head Coach Mark Lilley said: “It was a great performance. We came out of the blocks really well but going into half-time level after that could have affected us. We had spoken about momentum shifts and it was all about how we dealt with it.
“The word we kept using pre-match was resilience – we were resilient at Leeds last week and we showed that quality again tonight.
“I’m really pleased for the boys. It was a tough start to the season but we have stuck together, not got too emotional and we are becoming a good team but there is still a lot of work to do.”
Captain Will Britton added: “It’s a great feeling to get that win, especially against Durham who we have a good rivalry against. Credit to them, they came back strongly in the first half but I think we executed our plan better in the end and when we were given penalties we managed to turn them into points.
“Hughesy has been doing really well for us leading the attack and the tries he scored today were just reward for his hard work.”
On a wet and windy night at the Sports Training Village, Durham had the wind behind them in the first half but were blown away by an inspired Bath performance during the opening 20 minutes.
They took the lead in style, Charlie Dunbar breaking through the Durham defence following a scrum before superbly offloading to full-back Hughes, who feinted to pass before cutting back inside and touching down. Flinn added the extras.
Bath then unleashed their lineout drive to great effect in the 12th minute, prop Hay burrowing through to get the try which put the hosts 12-0 up.
Durham were reeling and found themselves even further behind after a moment of brilliance from Hughes. The opening looked to have gone when Bath spilled the ball from a scrum but Luca Petrozzi retrieved the loose ball before flicking it to Hughes who, from inside his own half, produced a dazzling turn of pace to weave through the visiting defence before touching down.
Flinn’s conversion put Bath 19-0 up but Durham rallied and, from their first concerted spell of pressure following a penalty kick to the corner, flanker Duffy was able to find a gap and cross for a try converted by Tom Catterick.
Bath were suddenly on the back foot and were forced to concede a penalty try, then lost blindside flanker Miles Reid – making his first start for 15 months after injury – to the sin bin.
Durham took full advantage of another lapse in concentration to draw level, captain Clegg showing a good turn of speed to run from his own half to touch down.
Bath survived a series of sorties on their line in the closing stages of the half but fell behind for the first time 15 minutes into the second period when Durham kicked a penalty to the corner and Fowles drove over from the subsequent lineout.
The hosts needed to regain a foothold in the game and when they were awarded a penalty in the Durham 22, they elected to go for the points and Flinn’s penalty cut the gap to 24-22.
When replacement Tom Bottoms was clattered from the restart, Flinn used the wind brilliantly to put the penalty into the corner. Durham had no answer to the lineout drive and Barry’s try, converted by the fly-half, restored Bath’s lead.
Durham were now being forced to concede penalties and, after Luke Chadwick was yellow-carded, another successful kick from Flinn gave Bath a welcome cushion.
The visitors applied plenty of pressure in the last ten minutes but, rather than go for goal and get to within a score of Bath, they kept opting for the set-piece. Arthur Cordwell was sin-binned but the Bath defence refused to be breached and they stood firm for another bonus-point win.
Bath travel to old rivals Loughborough next Wednesday (December 13) for their final match before the Christmas break. The season will resume with a home fixture against Cardiff Met on Wednesday, January 17 – kick-off is 6.30pm and admission is free.
University of Bath: 15 Will Hughes, 14 Finn Murphy, 13 Charlie Dunbar, 12 Craig Duncan, 11 Levi Davis, 10 Will Flinn, 9 Luca Petrozzi; 1 Austin Hay, 2 George Frampton, 3 David da Costa, 4 Derryn Jones, 5 Will Britton (c), 6 Miles Reid, 7 Chris Barry, 8 Jack Davies. Replacements: 16 Jordi den Hartog, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 Bradley Packham, 19 Jordan Martin, 20 Tom Bottoms, 21 Louis Mulholland, 22 Alex Burrage.
Tries: Hughes 2, Hay, Barry.
Conversions: Flinn 3.
Penalties: Flinn 2.
Durham University: 15 Tristan Rawcliffe, 14 Rory Hardman, 13 Charlie Norman, 12 Elliott Manley, 11 Nathan Wyman, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Jacob Collin; 1 Jack Conteh, 2 Harry Baron, 3 Diogo Hasse Ferreira, 4 Colin Markham, 5 Justin Clegg (c), 6 Joe Duffy, 7 Ethan Harbinson, 8 Benjamin Fowles. Replacements: 16 Luke Chadwick, 17 Max Hayes, 18 Henry Paremain, 19 Hugo Chambre, 20 Owen Bennett, 21 Joshua Wright, 22 Tom Lewis.
Tries: Duffy, penalty, Clegg, Fowles.
Referee: Andy Wigley.
Assistant referees: George Selwood, Alex Marsh.