Worcester Warriors’ Chris Pennell insists that while he was the one to dot down the winning try against Bristol, it was a complete team effort that got his side over the line in a thrilling Championship play-off final.
The 28-year-old’s score as the clock ticked into the red gave Ryan Lamb the opportunity to send the Warriors into the Premiership in front of a packed Sixways on Wednesday, his conversion taking the scoreline to 30-30 (59-58 on aggregate) and edging the two-leg tie in Worcester’s favour.
It completed an astonishing turnaround in the last five minutes of the breathless encounter, Bristol letting a 14-point advantage slip thanks to a penalty try and yellow cards for Jack Lam and Dwayne Peel.
And despite Pennell taking the plaudits with two tries on the night, the England international believes his teammates’ discipline at the death was the decisive factor.
“There are so many things that happened in that game to get us to that position, and credit to all the boys who stuck to their jobs when the pressure was on, worked hard and got us over the line,” he said.
“The situation we found ourselves in was far from ideal, but this game can change so quickly – as it did when they got themselves into the lead.
“I do remember the final try and I was just trying to get it as close to the sticks as possible to give Lamby [Ryan Lamb] the best possible chance, and credit to him for stepping up and knocking it through – it shows that character he has.
“This is a justification of so many things. After the disappointment of last year we’ve come so far as a team, and I don’t think we’d have come out on top in the same situation last October.
“So we’ve really grown and I think playing in the Premiership will bring incredible things out of our youngsters. They’ll thrive on that stage.
“I really do believe in the direction this club is moving, although this is just the first box that has been ticked. We have many more to go before we can say that this journey has been a success.”
Amongst the scenes of Warriors jubilation at the final whistle, an exhausted Dean Ryan cut a solitary figure on the pitch as he took a few reflective moments to himself.
And the stunned director of rugby is adamant that while his side may not have been the strongest on the night, their resilient victory proves his philosophy at Worcester is working.
Ryan said: “I’m the same as everybody else who watched that game I think; I’m shocked as I didn’t really see that ending coming.
“The players all feel elated of course, but when you’ve been sat for 80 minutes watching a game like that, it almost feels like you’ve been in some kind of car accident.
“Sport is cruel and I really do feel for every one of those Bristol players. That’s happened to me before when I’ve been on the better side and I thought Bristol were the best side in this game.
“I’m not going to try and defend our own performance, but it’s taken us 18 months to grow, work really hard and hang in there as a group.
“That gave us something going into the final 20 minutes – and that was the weirdest 20 minutes I’ve ever seen in rugby – but all that matters was that we won and now we are in the Premiership.
“It’s been an amazing two weeks hasn’t it? Bristol was one of the most hostile environments I’ve been in and I loved it, and I loved coming back here and getting the same at Sixways. We’re starting something here and we want to keep it going.”
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