Planet Rugby

Warriors live to fight another day

28th April 2007 16:57

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Glen Jackson is tackled by James Brown

Dear Life: James Brown gets to grips with Glen Jackson

Worcester summoned up the warrior spirit to secure their top-flight status by recording an heroic 22-7 victory over Saracens in a nerve-jangling Guinness Premiership finale at Sixways on Saturday. Despite the loss, Saracens sneak through to the play-offs courtesy of events at Welford Road.

But it was the locals who wore the bigger smiles, and for good reason - they have pulled off the great escape.

Brilliantly led by their skipper and former England captain Pat Sanderson, Worcester recorded a third successive home league win.

With pressure at an almost unbearable level, Worcester delivered the goods when it really mattered, staying afloat thanks to tries from hooker Aleki Lutui, flanker Drew Hickey and Dale Rasmussen.

Full-back Shane Drahm added two conversions and a drop-goal, complementing the efforts of a fired-up Worcester pack that took Saracens' eight to the cleaners.

The visitors still scraped into a title play-off place, finishing fourth, but they could have few complaints after only troubling the scorers through a Dan Scarbrough try that Andy Farrell converted.

Worcester can now look forward to a fourth successive campaign in English rugby's top flight, having looked down and out just a couple of months ago.

Their ability to string a priceless sequence of league wins together - Saracens went the same way as Bath and Newcastle last month - ensured another campaign mixing it with the Premiership elite.

Northampton though, European champions just seven years ago, will make a humiliating drop out of the Premiership to be replaced by League One champions Leeds next term.

Worcester, striving to extend their stay among the cream of English rugby, were without Wales prop Chris Horsman because of a neck injury, so Tevita Taumoepeau deputised, but principal lineout ball supply Craig Gillies returned from suspension to partner Richard Blaze in the second row.

Saracens recalled fit-again wing Kameli Ratuvou, so Scarbrough dropped to the bench, while changes up front saw starts for Kevin Yates, Fabio Ongaro and Iain Fullarton, but England World Cup-winning flanker Richard Hill was a late withdrawal.

Worcester displayed no sign of early nerves, tearing into Saracens from the start and taking a deserved seventh-minute lead.

Lutui, whose two tries helped Worcester claim a priceless fightback victory over Newcastle last month, crashed over from close range. Referee David Pearson sparked a lengthy delay by consulting the video official, but the try was eventually awarded.

Drahm converted, and the Warriors continued to enjoy a degree of territorial control, subduing a Saracens outfit desperate for tries as they targeted an all-important bonus point.

Saracens were outmuscled by the Worcester eight early on, but Drahm missed two penalties well within his range, which increased the sense of tension around Sixways.

The visitors lost Jackson to a nasty facial wound eight minutes before the break - he was replaced by Scarbrough - and Worcester were in no mood to let their advantage slip.

Hickey, who had required a lengthy spell of treatment midway through the opening period, appeared on the end of another relentless Warriors forward drive as Saracens - minus a sin-binned Kevin Yates - failed to stop the try.

Drahm slotted his second conversion, but Saracens served a reminder of their attacking prowess during first-half stoppage time when Thomas Castaignède, Kevin Sorrell and Farrell linked well to send Scarbrough sprinting between the posts.

Farrell converted in the absence of Jackson, and Worcester trooped off 14-7 ahead, their survival mission half-accomplished.

A patched-up Jackson returned for the second period wearing a scrum-cap, but Hickey did not reappear, with Tom Harding taking over from him in the back row.

Worcester knew they had to regain the initiative, and rugby director John Brain began using his bench for tactical reasons, sending on former Wales and Lions prop Darren Morris for 37-year-old Premiership veteran Tony Windo.

And the Warriors created a third try on 63 minutes, again using their magnificent forwards to smash up the middle through an inspired Sanderson charge.

Saracens struggled to cope with the Worcester back row in close combat, but Warriors had the vision to move possession wide and Drahm's pass sent Rasmussen over in the corner.

The grounding looked slightly dubious but it didn't matter in the grand scale of things - it was comfortably Worcester's most important try of the season, and threw down the gauntlet to a Saracens side that had not delivered with the pressure at its most intense.

Drahm then dropped a goal with 13 minutes remaining, and Worcester had done enough to keep their place at the top table.

The scorers:

For Worcester Warriors:

Tries: Lutui, Hickey, Rasmussen

Cons: Drahm 2

Drop: Drahm

For Saracens:

Try: Scarbrough

Con: Farrell

The teams:

Worcester Warriors: 15 Shane Drahm, 14 Lee Best, 13 Dale Rasmussen, 12 Mark Tucker, 11 Thinus Delport, 10 James Brown, 9 Matt Powell, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Pat Sanderson (c), 6 Drew Hickey, 5 Richard Blaze, 4 Craig Gillies, 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Tony Windo.

Replacements: 16 Darren Morris, 17 Chris Fortey, 18 Phil Murphy, 19 Tom Harding, 20 Nick Runciman, 21 Thomas Lombard, 22 Marcel Garvey.

Saracens: 15 Thomas Castaignède, 14 Rodd Penney, 13 Kevin Sorrell, 12 Andy Farrell, 11 Kameli Ratuvou, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Richard Hill, 6 Kris Chesney, 5 Simon Raiwalui (c), 4 Iain Fullarton, 3 Cobus Visagie, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Kevin Yates.

Replacements: 16 Matt Cairns, 17 Cencus Johnston, 18 Hugh Vyvyan, 19 David Seymour, 20 Moses Rauluni, 21 Adam Powell, 22 Dan Scarbrough.

Referee: Dave Pearson

Touch judges: Peter Huckle, Bob Mullis

Assessor: Colin High

Television match official: Laurie Bryant

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