EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP
With the key to last season’s run to the European Challenge Cup final out of reach, Worcester Warriors must concentrate on winning their next three home games and in doing so their pool.
While last Saturday’s 29-14 loss in Bourgoin does not seriously jeopardise Warriors’ knockout stage chances, defeat in the return fixture tomorrow would, the real legacy of their non-performance in France is yet to be felt.
Six victories from six matches in last year’s group games afforded Mike Ruddock’s men top seeding for the quarter and semi-finals and gave home ties with Montpellier and Newcastle. That paved the way to a final at Kingsholm.
But with London Irish, Saracens and Northampton still boasting 100 per cent records it is difficult to see Worcester repeating that so they must down the feisty French this weekend and hope to end the phase as one of the best four group winners.
It is not beyond their remit but Ruddock does not anticipate the customary capitulation whenever l’esprit de clocher is lacking and expects Bourgoin to bring a homespun pride across the Channel.
“We all think that from time to time and I have thought in the past with certain French teams but looking at Bourgoin they have hit a real run of form,” the director of rugby says. “They have beaten Castres away, who we saw last weekend are very competitive in Europe, so they are going to be highly motivated and see the opportunity to win the pool. I am expecting a serious challenge. They are quite a good team, well organised, strong at half back and with a good pack. We will have to play at our best.”
That is not helped by a swingeing injury situation that has deprived Warriors of a back line. Half backs Loki Crichton – ruled out for a month this week, Matthew Jones and Ryan Powell, join outside backs Miles Benjamin, Marcel Garvey, Chris Pennell and Chris Latham on the treatment table.
London Irish playmaker Eoghan Hickey has been brought on loan for six weeks and will start at full back in place of the latter two – days after arriving.
Ruddock is still sufficiently confident he will use the match to rest key performers. Greg Rawlinson will take a well earned break as will Matt Mullan, though if the youngster is tired he hides it well. Sam Tuitupou will return having come back from compassionate leave in New Zealand and will join Rico Gear and at some stage, Hal Luscombe behind the scrum.