Taulupe Faletau makes welcome comeback as Bath edge out Bristol
Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau made his comeback after more than 10 weeks out with a medial knee ligament injury as Bath earned a scrappy 16-9 Aviva Premiership victory over winless neighbours Bristol.
Faletau was taken off after 55 minutes in an unspectacular return but the Welsh management will be relieved that he can be considered to face South Africa in Cardiff next weekend.
Bath's seventh win in eight games put them top of the table - for 24 hours at least - but their mix-and-match line-up could conjure only one try, scored by wing Jack Wilson in the first half.
In front of a record attendance at the Rec of 14,241, Bath spent almost all the first 20 minutes tackling and only once had possession inside the Bristol 10-metre line.
For all the ball the visitors had in that first quarter, though, they seldom threatened and when they did, poor alignment let them down.
Eventually, a 70-metre Tom Homer clearance bounced kindly into touch inside the Bristol 22 and they were suddenly under pressure when Rhodri Williams' clearance was charged down.
Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland was helped off with a leg injury to be replaced by Adam Hastings, but Homer opened the scoring for Bath with a 19th-minute penalty.
Faletau carried strongly from the restart only for his fellow forwards to go off their feet at the ruck and Billy Searle was on target for 3-3.
Helped by a dominant scrum the home side had now shrugged off the overly defensive mindset. In the 27th minute, Wilson supported flanker Tom Ellis to score under the posts after Matt Banahan had drawn several defenders. Homer converted.
Errors were creeping into Bristol's game but their work at the breakdown was busy and they forced enough turnovers and penalties to stop Bath finding any rhythm.
When Elliott Stooke was whistled up at a ruck, Searle made it 10-6 with his second penalty.
Homer replied from short range after Bristol were caught offside in a ruck in their own 22 but Searle had the last word on the stroke of half-time with his third successful kick when Ross Batty did not roll away quickly enough from the tackle area.
A smart break by Williams from the base of the scrum gave Bristol hope but Bath began to crank up the pressure with their ball carriers and Homer's third penalty extended the lead to 16-9.
Bristol were reduced to 14 men after 64 minutes when centre Jason Woodward fell the wrong side of a ruck on his own line after Faletau's replacement, Zach Mercer, almost made the line.
Bath could not make the extra man count, however, and it was Bristol who finished strongest, forcing a line-out in the corner. Agonisingly, Will Hurrell spilt a pass after half-a-dozen phases and they had to be content with a losing bonus point.