Bath overpower London Irish
Bath's bonus point victory laid down the gauntlet to Northampton and Saracens in the battle for home semi-final spots in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals as they beat London Irish 43-18.
Ahead of the top two's meeting at Milton Keynes, Bath opened up a five-point lead, temporarily at least, over second-placed Saracens - and were a point behind Saints.
A runaway, five-try victory looked unlikely at half-time, when London Irish led 13-12.
But Bath cut loose in typically thrilling fashion in front of a capacity 13,349 crowd as Leroy Houston, England's Jonathan Joseph, Matt Banahan, Sam Burgess - who excelled in attack and defence - and Semesa Rokoduguni crossed for tries. England fly-half George Ford added 18 points with the boot from four penalties and three conversions.
Irish managed tries at the end of each half, through Tom Court and Blair Cowan, while Chris Noakes contributed two penalties and a conversion.
Ford's boot eased Bath into a 6-0 lead in as many minutes as London Irish were caught infringing at the breakdown and scrum. Both kicks were from distance - 40 and 50 metres on either side of the field - and stemmed from adventurous counter-attacking.
The Exiles responded readily to the challenge, with young fly-half Noakes chipping across to Topsy Ojo whose flick inside to the supporting Blair Cowan brought the best out of Banahan in defence.
After a series of assaults on the home line, hooker David Paice was held up under the posts by Francois Louw, Paul James and Leroy Houston. The five-metre scrum was reset but Bath were this time guilty of an illegal wheel and Noakes made it 6-3 on 15 minutes.
A needless off-the-ball block by Paice, almost from the restart, was punished by Ford - again from 40 metres plus.
Thick and fast came the penalties as Banahan was taken out in the air - but by a mistimed challenge rather than a malicious one.
Ford made a dangerous break from his own half but, when London Irish were guilty of a scrum offence, the England fly-half opted to kick for the corner.
For 10 minutes, the visitors defended the line-out catch-and-drive by fair means and foul, each time being forced back into the corner. When the ball went wide, first Rokoduguni and then Kane Palma-Newport were chopped down just short, but one infringement too many resulted in a yellow card for lock Jebb Sinclair.
A penalty count of 13-3 against the visitors vindicated the decision of referee Luke Pearce but it was points on the board that mattered and 14-man Irish struck back to take an unlikely 13-12 lead on the stroke of half-time.
It was international prop Court who forced his way over after Luke Narraway had got the Bath defence on the back foot. Noakes added the conversion.
It took Bath just six minutes of the second half to get their act together, however, as Houston peeled off an untidy scrum to touch down, with Ford adding the conversion.
Five minutes later, England's Jonathan Joseph raced away to score from his own chip and collect after deft work by Houston and Louw. Ford converted again and Bath led 26-13.
The third Bath try followed almost immediately as replacement lock Matt Garvey barged to the visitors 22 and the ball was moved swiftly to Kyle Eastmond whose long pass left Banahan an easy route to the corner.
This time Ford was wide with the conversion but the bonus point was wrapped up on the hour as Burgess finished off a catch-and-drive, and Ford landed his seventh successful kick out of eight to convert.
Replacement lock Dan Leo became the second Exiles player to be sent to the bin on 63 minutes but it was another nine minutes before Bath made superior numbers count, Rokoduguni diving over in the corner for an unconverted score.