Delon Armitage cannot seem to shake off the effects of England's World Cup hangover. The full-back, who was suspended for a match in New Zealand for a high and late challenge on Scotland's Chris Paterson, was at it again here.
His neck-high tackle on Tom Biggs, who was in full flight, flattened the Bath wing in the 35th minute. At half-time Biggs, who had no idea where he was, was removed from the contest. Armitage, who missed 11 weeks of last season for various offences including abusing a doping official, was shown a yellow card and his crime was immediately punished.
From the penalty, Bath went through the phases until Sam Vesty found himself in an irresistible position from which to breach the Irish defence. After Vesty had fallen short with an early penalty attempt from a moderate distance, Bath elected to run every penalty award bar one.
The Irish, on the other boot, had a specialist kicker in Tom Homer whose four penalties twice put his side in the lead. When he homed in on his fourth in the 74th minute the Irish were 12-10 in front. However, three minutes later Shontayne Hape, the England centre making his Premiership debut at the Madejski having joined from Bath, was penalised for handling at a ruck, 30 yards in front of his posts. Vesty kicked the winner, cue a storm of booing aimed at the referee David Rose who also came in for some stick from the Irish coach Toby Booth.
"Key decisions are vital and referees need to be consistent and accurate," Booth said.
"I'm at a loss... Hape made a tackle and got to his feet. We had a dominant scrum and yet were also penalised there."
Booth, one of England's brighter young coaches, was also distraught at the claustrophobia between defence and attack. "There was no distance between the lines. We were averaging 35 points a match. Against Bath there was no distance between the lines. We were up against 13 defenders. You can't magically produce space that isn't there. It makes the breakdown even more crucial."
Ah yes, the breakdown, a problem area of the game that not even the AA could solve. "It's a lucky dip," said Brad Davis, the Bath coach. "They need to look into why it's such a mess. Sometimes we got the benefit of it, sometimes the Irish did."
Bath, who changed their entire front row after the break, were relieved to regain the lead after 61 minutes when Michael Claassens chargeddown a kick from his opposite number Darren Allinson.
Allinson seemed to have made amends when, against a man twice his size, he tried to prevent the lock Dave Attwood from touching down in the right-hand corner with a last-ditch tackle. The flag was flattened as Attwood crossed the line and the television match official took his time before ruling that the try was good. All credit to Attwood for maintaining his balance in the tightest of calls.
Even so, it looked as if Homer's goalkicking would trump Bath's tries until the hapless Hape fell foul of the lucky dip. Ian McGeechan, Bath's director of rugby who described the match as a dogfight, said: "To score two tries to nil away from home is always good. We were not too clever after half-time but tactically very good in the first half. We left a few points on the sideline."
Perhaps the arrival of Stephen Donald, one of New Zealand's heroes in the World Cup final vistory over France, will rectify that. "He's been celebrating a bit and it's good that he has a chance to enjoy it... 99.9 per cent of players never have that opportunity," McGeechan said. "He will bring composure to Bath. He has a good kicking game, very good game management and he's not small either."
London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, J Joseph (S Shingler, 18), S Hape, T Homer; D Bowden (capt), D Allinson; M Lahiff (A Corbisiero, 54), D Paice (J Buckland, 57), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 57), N Kennedy, B Evans (J Sandford, 62), D Danaher (J Sinclair, 62), R Thorpe, J Gibson.
Bath: N Abendanon; O Woodburn, M Carraro, M Banahan, T Biggs (J Cuthbert, h-t); S Vesty, M Claassens; N Catt (C Beech, 60), L Mears (R Batty, 76), A Perenise (D Wilson, 54), S Hooper (capt), D Attwood (R Caldwell, 76), B Skirving, S Taylor, G Mercer.
Referee: D Rose (RFU)