Bath stole Manu Tuilagi’s thunder as they claimed a first Aviva Premiership victory at Welford Road for 14 years.
England centre Tuilagi scored his first Premiership try since the opening day of last season as he started a first competitive Leicester game for eight months, but Bath were not to be denied as they thwarted a late Leicester fightback and claimed a 27-23 win.
Bath’s Wales-born centre Max Clark touched down twice in the first half, while wing Semesa Rokoduguni posted an 80-metre interception score and fly-half Rhys Priestland added all three conversions, plus two penalties.
Tigers fly-half George Ford kicked two penalties and a conversion against the club he left earlier this year, but Leicester never got going as they crashed to an opening weekend defeat despite debutant Jonny May scoring two late tries.
With the likes of Tuilagi, who was back after a serious groin injury suffered on New Year’s Day, Ford and May in their ranks, Tigers had high hopes of making a powerful start under new coach Matt O’Connor.
But Bath, who paraded 2017 British and Irish Lions Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Taulupe Faletau in their starting XV, had other ideas, as they began impressively ahead of next Saturday’s Recreation Ground appointment with European champions Saracens.
Despite Bath being briefly reduced to 13 men late in the action after Kahn Fotuali’i and Matt Garvey were sin-binned, they showed enough composure to seal the deal, even when wing Matt Banahan collected a yellow card seconds from time, restricting Leicester to a losing bonus point.
Bath delivered a strong start as number eight Faletau smashed through in midfield, but Leicester quickly found their stride as Australian centre Matt Toomua made early distance.
Both sides showed plenty of attacking intent, yet a forced final pass or inaccuracy thwarted best intentions, and it remained scoreless entering the second half of a pacy opening quarter.
But Leicester, after opening their account through a Ford penalty, breached Bath’s defence when clever work from scrum-half Ben Youngs found full-back Telusa Veainu with flanker Brendon O’Connor in support, before Tuilagi sprinted 20 metres to score.
Bath, though, responded superbly to falling 8-0 behind, and they stunned Leicester through a Clark try double in four minutes.
Banahan ran strongly to create the opener, leaving Leicester’s defence floundering, and Clark enjoyed an unopposed run to the line, then Bath’s forwards laid a strong platform, allowing Clark to pounce from close range.
Priestland added both conversions, but there was even worse to come for Leicester as Bath struck again when Rokoduguni gathered a stray Ford pass inside his own 22 and sprinted away to score, despite Tigers debutant May’s best efforts to chase him down.
Wales international Priestland completed a hat-trick of conversions, and Leicester trailed 21-8 at the break following a dominant second quarter by Bath.
Priestland and Ford exchanged penalties during the third quarter, but Bath continued to enjoy supremacy, building impressively through their forwards, defending strongly and denying the Tigers attacking inroads.
And a second Priestland penalty in the 62nd minute opened up a 16-point lead, leaving Leicester with it all to do, despite Bath losing substitute scrum-half Fotuali’i 11 minutes from time and then skipper Garvey when they were yellow-carded for high tackles.
Leicester lock Graham Kitchener then knocked on with the Bath line at his mercy, and that summed up Tigers’ day as Bath closed out a richly-deserved success, despite May’s 78th-minute second touchdown.