Bath, the first British club to lift the Heineken Cup back in 1998, confirmed their place in this season's quarter-finals with a workmanlike if not always confident performance.
The West Countrymen started in authoritative mood, keen to nullify any Swansea threat, and in scoring two tries in the opening half, appeared well on their way to a rousing victory. But Swansea managed to dig deep, a quality not always in their repertoire this season, and made a match of it, before two late penalties in a 14-point contribution from Ollie Barkley sealed matters.
Bath's dismal start to their domestic season has been positively countered by exemplary performances on the European stage, winning all four previous encounters in their pool. They annihilated Swansea at the Recreation Ground back in October, and while they been erratic since, Swansea have been nowhere near that good – the only glimmer of light coming on Boxing Day as they comprehensively beat Llanelli on their home patch.
Swansea had won two and lost two of their pool matches but alarmingly for them had been unable to play their normal, top-of-the-ground game with forwards and backs operating at full throttle. However hard they try, try, and try again, they have failed to cross their opponents' goal-line in the competition.
Swansea's already difficult task against Bath was further compounded by the absence of leading forwards Colin Charvis, Andy Moore and Garin Jenkins, which suggested they would never be in a position to challenge the Bath eight. But after early Bath dominance, Tyrone Maullin and Geraint Lewis proved more than a match for Danny Grewcock, Gavin Thomas and the like.
The ever-reliable Barkley opened the scoring with a penalty in the first few seconds as Swansea killed possession from the towering kick-off. Arwel Thomas replied in kind for Swansea minutes later as Swansea produced all the early innovation and activity, with glimpses of Welsh flare seeking to outmanoeuvre the English side's organisation and solidity.
But it was that organisation coupled with some fortunate ricochets that gave Bath the game's opening try after 20 minutes. Solid line-out work was initially wasted, but when the ball was regathered, the powerful flanker Mark Gabey claimed the touchdown via the foot of the upright. Barkley converted and, soon after, kicked his second penalty.
By the half-hour, Bath had also assumed the role of creators as they pinched the ball from Swansea's skipper Scott Gibbs, no mean feat, and Mike Tindall skipped through to time his pass perfectly for Kevin Maggs to cross for the unconverted try. Thomas kept Swansea in touch with another penalty before the interval.
Bath appeared rattled after the restart and so were the ribs of their full-back Iain Balshaw as Gibbs launched into his Lions colleague. Balshaw went off and, to add insult to injury, Thomas converted a penalty for a previous off-side.
Thomas then kicked his fourth penalty, despite the sin-binning of the Welsh international prop Darren Morris, and somehow Swansea had managed to claw their way back to within a converted try. But Bath finished the game in the ascendancy as Barkley sealed victory with his two late penalties.
Swansea: K Morgan; R Rees, S Winn, S Gibbs (capt), S Payne; A Thomas, R Jones (S Martens, 64); D Morris, J Masters, B Evans (A Le Chevalier, 65), T Maulin, J Griffitths (H Jenkins, 74), G Lewis, D Thomas, L Jones.
Bath: I Balshaw (T Voyce, 50); R Thirlby, O Barkley, M Tindall, K Maggs; M Catt (capt), A Williams; D Barnes (S Emms, 55), A Long, J Mallett (D Dorfey, 60), S Borthwick, D Grewcock, G Thomas, M Gabey (D Lyle, 60), N Thomas.
Referee: I Ramage (Scotland).Reuse content