LONDON Irish slipped to a narrow 26-22 defeat in a pulsating start to the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Bath just edging to victory despite the hosts out-scoring them by four tries to two.

Exiles suffered a disastrous start as ex-Australian international inside centre Ben Tapaui showed wonderful feet to beat at least four Irish defenders in skipping in from 30 metres out. Freddie Burns made no mistake with conversion in front of the posts and the visitors led 7-0 inside five minutes.

Irish were encountering problems at their scrum, losing the opening two, but gradually came into the contest as the opening quarter wore on.

And they opened their account following a period of sustained pressure in which they forced four consecutive penalties on the Bath try-line.

Eventually, though a moment of magic from captain David Paice – who produced an off-load Sonny Bill Williams would have been proud of – created space for ex-Bath man Max Northcote-Green to barrel over. Theo Brophy Clews was unable to add the extras, but Irish had cut the gap to two points.

However, Exiles shot themselves in the foot almost immediately as impressive young flanker Josh Bayliss forced a penalty when Irish failed to release. Burns landed a testing and lengthy kick to put his side 10-5 to the good.

An end-to-end exchange then saw both sides come close to scoring, Joe Cokanasiga bursting down the right flank before his pass inside failed to go to hand, allowing Tapaui the chance to race 60 metres before his chip ahead was well-fielded by James Marshall.

With the opening half coming to a close, Irish levelled thanks to a second score from Northcote-Green. He took a pass on the right-hand wing about 10 metres out, but showed a finished’s instinct to power through a would-be tackler before stretching to just get the ball down cleanly. Brophy Clews again failed to convert.

And Irish once again undid their good work on the stroke of half time, conceding a somewhat needless penalty which Burns slotted to maintain his perfect record and put his side 13-10 up at the break.

Irish started the second half in blistering fashion as they won a penalty and kicked to the corner.

Although they were unable to cross with the rolling maul, a series of pick-and-goes ended with Paice burrowing over from close range on the left-hand side.

McKibbin took over kicking duties and landed a tough conversion from the flank to give his side a four-point lead.

Yet Bath were unbowed and regained the lead midway through the half. The visitors hammered away at the Irish line, with the hosts defending superbly until Burns sent a cross-field kick to the right-hand corner.

Levi Davis leapt higher than Marshall, dotting down after claiming the ball. The imperious Burns added another excellent touch-line conversion, and Bath led 20-17.

However, the ebb-and-flow nature of the contest continued as Irish sealed a bonus-point with their fourth try.

Brophy-Clews threw a beautiful miss-pass to Fergus Mulchrone, who then timed his pass to Lewington superbly to give the flying wing just enough space to scamper in from 15 metres out.

It was another fine finish from the England hopeful, who did tremendously well to avoid putting a foot in touch. Marshall could not add the extras, though, leaving the hosts just two points to the good.

And their ill-discipline was to cause them further problems as replacement Elliott Stooke – formerly of Irish – made an immediate impact when he chased a Burns kick and tackled Blair Cowan, the Scottish international failing to release. Burns landed yet another tough kick as he continued his perfect record in making it 23-22.

Bath extended their advantage with 10 minutes to go when Mulchrone was pinged at the breakdown, allowing Burns to make it six from six with a 40-metre effort from in front of the posts.

Irish rallied and set up a dramatic final minute when they won a penalty and went to the corner.

However, despite going through more than a dozen phases of play with pick-and-goes close to the line, their decision to spin the ball wide backfired as substitute Aseli Tikoirotuma knocked on and Bath kicked the ball out to seal a dramatic victory.

London Irish: Marshall, Cokanasiga, Mulchrone, McLean, Lewington, Brophy Clews, McKibbin (Steele 55, Ransom 68)), Elrington, Paice (c), Du Plessis, van der Merwe (Lloyd 73), Paulo, Northcote-Green, Cowan, Schatz (Treviranus 73).

Bath Rugby: Atkins, Davis, James Wilson, Tapuai, Jack Wilson, Burns, Allinson (Green 53), Auterac (Vaughan 63), van Vuuren (Walker 62), Lahiff (Nixon 63), Douglas, Phillips, Garvey (c), Bayliss, Grant.

Attendance: 4,364.