GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP: Gloucester 33 Worcester Warriors 19
Worcester produced their best performance of the season and scored their first try in four hours of Premiership rugby but it was not enough to record a maiden victory over their local rivals.
That said this cruel 14-point defeat was not the most debilitating result of the day. That took place some 95 miles away in Leicester where Northampton Saints, seemingly a club without hope, scrapped to a remarkable upset win against a team that had not lost a home league match for three years.
If an away win was always going to be unlikely at Kingsholm, there was not even a slight chance that Northampton would leave Welford Road with anything other than a bloody nose. But it was that sort of day, where the unusual became commonplace.
How often can a team dominate set pieces to the extent that Worcester did and still lose? How can a side that so rarely make line breaks cut their opponents to ribbons through the centres and end up without the lions’ share of the points?
Only one thing is certain and sadly it’s that this match will not be on next season’s fixture list and the Premiership will be a poorer place for it.
Worcester trail Northampton by seven points and the Saints have a match in hand.
While John Brain’s men will put their all into beating Bath, Newcastle and Saracens at Sixways they cannot expect to take much from their matches at Sale and London Irish.
But Northampton will be invigorated by beating Tigers and they will believe they can go to Bath, Bristol and Newcastle and come away with something. They will also fancy all three of their home games.
It was enough to leave Brain, Worcester’s normally unflappable director of rugby, looking decidedly shell-shocked.
"I can’t remember ever losing a game where the opposition attack has not really troubled us at all and we have given a lot of trouble to the opposition defence," he said. "For a supposedly sterile attacking team we didn’t look too bad, our set piece in the second half was outstanding and we scored a lovely try. It was all so galling.
"Losing at all is hard to take but losing by that margin is even harder to bear. It will be difficult to pick the players up now. Because of the way the results have gone this weekend we know we are in big trouble but we have just got to get on with it."
Worcester’s afternoon was neatly summed up by a three-minute spell of James Brown’s life.
The fly half, happily recovered from back spasms, played one of his better games. His options were pretty good, his handling was confident and his placekicking was immaculate.
Yet, had he been able to swing two incidents his team’s way the result would have been different. Within a quarter of an hour he had kicked Worcester into a 6-0 lead but it was his failure to win a 40-metre footrace to the tryline that prevented the advantage from reaching double figures.
Matt Powell’s box kick was taken in stride by Thinus Delport, who passed inside to Dale Rasmussen. The Samoan, in the process of giving his best display in a Warriors shirt, gave Brown the ball and nothing but fresh air between him and the line.
The 28-year-old scooted away but seemed to decelerate as Peter Richards chased him down and tagged him two yards from the line. It was rugby’s equivalent of an open goal.
Then, a matter of seconds later, as Brown tried to clear a lineout stolen by Craig Gillies, he took too long and allowed Peter Buxton to race through and charge down. The Gloucester captain picked up on the hoof and went over by the sticks. Ryan Lamb gave his team a lead they would never lose.
In those two incidents a potential 13-point cushion had been turned into a one-point deficit but even then Worcester might have regained the initiative.
Three minutes before half time Rasmussen sliced through the home defence and gave Delport the sideline in which to operate.
The South African actually made it all the way but stepped into touch in goal as he grounded the ball. It was all so excruciating.
Admittedly the try they did score was a thing of beauty. Trailing 20-9, a threequarter move looked to have become bogged down on halfway only for Powell to loop round and break away. The scrum half broke three tackles before flipping a one-handed pass for Lee Best’s second try of the season.
Brown converted and added a 74th-minute penalty to make it 20-19 and take his personal tally to 14.
But with Ludovic Mercier on in place of Lamb and James Simpson-Daniel fashioning a delicious score for James Bailey, Worcester were made to pay for the indiscretions that allowed Buxton and Mark Foster to breach their rearguard earlier in the match.
That they did not salvage even a single loss bonus was a terrible injustice but that won’t count for anything when the league table is drawn up at the end of the campaign.
GLOUCESTER: Goodridge; Simpson-Daniel, Keil, Adams (Bailey, 58), Foster; Lamb (Mercier, 54), Richards; Wood, Azam (Davies, 62), Califano, James (Eustace, 48), Brown A, Buxton, Hazell, Narraway. Replacements: Forster, Pendlebury, Thomas.
WORCESTER: Best; Havili, Rasmussen, Trueman (Tucker, 80+6), Delport; Brown, Powell; Windo (Black, 80+6), Fortey (Lutui, 65), Taumoepeau, Gillies, Collier (Murphy, 65), Sanderson, Harding (Quinnell, 76), Horstmann. Replacements: Runciman, Whatling
Referee: A Rowden (RFU).