The sight of Worcester’s wunderkinder leading Newport a merry dance in their British & Irish Cup opener last Saturday will have brought considerable satisfaction to all those involved.
Joey Carlisle’s performance during the 58-10 victory, 28 of which the elegant fly-half scored himself, was arguably his best in a Warriors shirt and rich reward for the 2,800 ardent followers who turned up.
Indeed, even though it is difficult to compare apples with oranges, this after all was not a Championship match and the home team contained several unfamiliar faces, Worcester could claim to have reached a level of clinical precision unrivalled so far this season.
But speaking before that match, head coach Richard Hill made no bones about the significance of the competition as he retired from frontline duty and handed the reins to academy coaches Andrew Stanley and Gary Meechan.
“In the past when people talked about the European Challenge Cup and any competition outside the Premiership – because there was a sponsor involved all the Premiership coaches had to say ‘Oh yes, we treat it very seriously’ and ‘Oh yes it’s a priority’ and they were all lying through their teeth. The Premiership is the be all and end all,” Hill contended.
“Where we will be judged at the end of the year is on whether or not we get promoted. The Championship is the only thing that really matters this year for Worcester Rugby Club.
“It would be nice as a little aside to do well in this competition and we know we have got enough strength in depth to compete very favourably in that.
“But if we don’t reach the final of the British & Irish Cup, there are not many people – to be frank – in the Worcester playing department who are going to be totally mortified by that, if we get promoted.
“There is no sponsor for the British & Irish Cup so there’s no danger of upsetting a sponsor and to be quite honest the other clubs I talk to the British & Irish Cup for them, with smaller squads, is a distraction from the Championship.”
That does not mean, however, Hill believes the cup is totally positive free. Will Radburn and the Jameses Clutterbuck, Whybrow and Freeman were all given a taste of first team involvement they might otherwise not have had.
“Players would rather play than not play. What I don’t want and what they don’t want is to sit around if – as we are – we are going to keep a more stable XV now.
“Whilst it’s not a priority for the supporters to see us win a few extra games and for the players who are not necessarily in that starting XV it is going to be vitally important and it’s going to be their rugby. At least it’s a meaningful competition and not a friendly.”