ULSTER 14 BATH 26, Ravenhill
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Mark McCrea, Pedrie Wannenburg; Cons: Ian Humphreys 2
Bath: Tries: Ross Batty, Matt Banahan, Olly Barkley, Jack Cuthbert; Cons: Sam Vesty 2, Olly Barkley
The sides' Heineken Cup pool meetings may not be until December, but Bath were certainly eager to draw first blood and also gain revenge for a brace of defeats to Ulster in Europe last season.
Four tries, two in each half, helped the Englishmen to victory here, with Olly Barkley and replacement Jack Cuthbert both crashing over in the second half.
Ulster were held scoreless between the 19th and 75th minutes, but did sign off with a try from debutant flanker Pedrie Wannenburg, the former Springbok.
Keen to shake off the close season cobwebs, Ulster dominated possesssion early on in sunny conditions. They created most of the scoring opportunities in the opening quarter.
Out-half Ian Humphreys missed two penalties inside the opening nine minutes - including one from inside the visitors' ten-metre line - but Ulster continued to press hard for scores.
They were rewarded in the 19th minute when winger Mark McCrea intercepted a pass close to his 22 and used his pace to scoot away and in under the posts for the opening try, which Humphreys converted.
Bath hooker Ross Batty touched down out wide in the 38th minute, after Ulster lock Tim Barker had been sin-binned and the hosts were caught for numbers.
Replacement Matt Banahan followed up with Bath's second seven pointer, in injury-time, by powering past Robbie Diack and Ian Porter. Sam Vesty's successful conversion made it 14-7 at the break.
The second half began in pedestrian fashion, with Ulster battling to get to grips with the scrum and also failing to take advantage when Banahan was sin-binned.
Play was halted, midway through the second half, due to an injury sustained by Paddy McAlister. The young Ballynahinch prop was not fit to continue but received a rousing round of applause on his departure.
Bath looked more potent in the second half, and numbers out wide allowed Barkley to spring through for a 65th minute try which he converted himself.
Banahan passed for Cuthbert to run in the visitors' third try, just five minutes later.
However, Ulster bounced back with some decent attacking play in the closing stages, with Humphreys and Darren Cave enjoying some more space.
Wannenburg took a quick tap penalty to catch the Bath defence off guard and get over for a timely try. Humphreys added the extras to cut the gap to 14 points, but Brian McLaughlin's men had to settle for a losing start, with replacement prop Adam Macklin also seeing yellow in the dying minutes.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith, Mark McCrea, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAlister, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Tim Barker, Johann Muller (capt), Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements used: Ian Porter for Marshall (21 mins), Niall O'Connor for Smith, Neil McComb for Muller (both half-time), Adam Macklin for Fitzpatrick, Andi Kyriacou for Brady, Tom Court for McAlister (all 63), Thomas Anderson for Faloon, Nevin Spence for Seymour (both 57).
BATH: Nick Abendanon; Matt Carraro, Shontayne Hape, Olly Barkley, Tom Biggs; Sam Vesty, Michael Claassens; David Flatman, Ross Batty, Duncan Bell, Stuart Hooper, Danny Grewcock, Simon Taylor, Lewis Moody, Luke Watson.
Replacements used: Matt Banahan for Hape (21 mins), Ben Skirving for Hooper (33), Lee Mears for Flatman, Nathan Catt for Batty, Dave Wilson for Bell, Andrew Beattie for Taylor, Mark McMillan for Claassens, Jacques Boussuge for Carraro (all half-time), Josh Ovens for Mooney (48), Jack Cuthbert for Abendanon (53), Stuart Hooper for Grewcock (56).
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)