EDF Energy Cup: Worcester Warriors 22 London Irish 5
Martin Johnson got his first glimpse of Worcester Wunderkind Miles Benjamin at Sixways on Sunday and the young winger did his international chances no harm at all by scoring two of his team’s four tries and making a decisive break for the third.
The 20-year-old took his tally to three in four days, following his first of the season against Harlequins on Thursday night, with one simple stroll in and another trademark cut-back and bash to suggest his quiet start to the campaign is over.
Having been little more than a peripheral figure in Warriors’ first four Premiership fixtures, save for a bullocking charge up the middle at London Wasps which led to Loki Crichton’s match-winning penalty, Benjamin is back at full tilt once more and could not have timed his return to form better with the England manager in the stands.
Johnson may feel aggrieved to have missed Matt Mullan, the young prop for whom Mike Ruddock has virtually guaranteed Red Rose honours, but he could not have failed to have noticed Benjamin and may feel he is worth consideration for an England Saxons game later in the season.
With this season’s age-group Six Nations being played at Under 20 level Benjamin must try to make the step up to senior representative rugby and, following his most potent display of the campaign, he will receive his director of rugby’s recommendation.
“We think that Matt Mullan has been outstanding this season and Miles has been doing well too. Hopefully Martin will inquire about people like Milo and Matt,” Ruddock said.
“It was good to see Milo getting back on the scoresheet – a bit like a centre-forward in football, if you go a few games without a goal you get a little concerned. Thankfully, he is getting back on the scoresheet now and that will help his confidence.”
Benjamin was not the only impressive youngster on show. Alex Grove, who made his first senior appearance for Worcester against Quins and left a favourable impression when he smashed England full back Mike Brown and forced a turnover, was at it again on Sunday with a series of massive hits that left one with the impression Dale Rasmussen must have left his power-pack in the No 13 shirt.
Charlie Fellows, another midweek debutant, was also in the game a lot though not to the try-scoring effect managed by young lock Graham Kitchener.
Kitchener, allegedly only 19 years old, looked thoroughly at home in the company of lineout doyens Bob Casey and Craig Gillies and while the silky dummy he threw to trick Adam Thompstone might get him censured by the Front Five Union, it was instrumental in the first try of his senior career.
By that time Worcester were already 7-0 up, courtesy of Benjamin’s first.
Matt Jones’ clever chip over the defence was collected by Matt Cox and carried forwards by Sam Tuitupou. With the Irish cover stretched Jones then floated a long pass to Benjamin that must have made the eyes of visiting full back James Bailey light up.
The former Gloucester man gambled on the interception, missed and Benjamin was left to literally walk across the line. Just to complete his contribution to the score Jones converted from the touchline.
That was to be his only successful kick from four conversion attempts although it would be churlish to focus on the single negative of an otherwise outstanding display.
“Matt was really, really good,” Ruddock said. “He made good decisions – when to run, when to kick – under pressure and the mix of his game was impressive.
“At times, he put some lovely chips and grubber-kicks through to keep Irish on their toes. His game management and decision-making were good and he is growing in confidence. I can see the change in his body language and he looks like the Matt Jones I remember from a few years ago.”
Certainly Ruddock must be heaving a sigh of relief that even before he had got anywhere with the idea of ending Jones’ exile at London Welsh, Eoghan Hickey had already turned Worcester down.
The visitors’ fly half actually looked round Sixways in the summer as he considered a move there. This was not a happy return. Clearly the posts were not up during his off-season stadium tour because he couldn’t locate them for neither love nor money in this match.
Three makeable penalties were sliced, scuffed and simply blazed wide but it was his botched conversion attempt of Peter Richards’ try that caused most merriment. Even Crichton must have felt for the lad.
By the time the pugnacious Richards slipped away from Johnny Arr in the 55th minute, Kitchener had already benefited from Benjamin’s break.
Benjamin reclaimed the spotlight on the hour when he side-stepped Bailey and ignored the attentions of James Buckland to make the game safe.
Crichton finished the scoring with a muscular surge three minutes from the end, having used Benjamin as a decoy, but it did nothing to obscure the fact the Birmingham-born wing is back on song.
WORCESTER: Latham (Crichton 67); Fellows, Grove, Tuitupou, Benjamin; Jones M (Carlisle 78), Jones B (Arr 51); Morris, Fortey (Lutui 51), Horsman (Ruwers 51), Kitchener (Rawlinson 62), Gillies, Cox, Abbott, Talei (Wood 62).
LONDON IRISH: Bailey; De Vedia (Gower 38), Shabbo, Geraghty (Homer 60), Thompstone; Hickey, Richards (Parker 72); Murphy, Buckland, Rautenbach, Johnson, Casey (Hala’ufia 64), Fisher, Danahar, Thorpe. Replacements: Dermody, Clarke, Armitage.
Referee: My Roy Maybank (RFU)