The headlines to the Guinness Premiership press releases announcing the Worcester and Harlequins teams for tonight’s clash said everything one needs to know about the power balances heading into this Premiership match.
While the one emanating from the Twickenham Stoop chorused ‘England trio return to face Worcester’, the rather more sober Sixways riposte observed ‘Powell to lead new-look Warriors’.
Indeed he does and Powell, Matt not Ryan, might need a quick round of ice-breakers and a few name-tags to make sure he knows exactly who he is lining up alongside. As Dean Richards’ Quins team look to maintain a run of nine straight home wins, they know a seventh in eight Premiership matches will lift them joint top of the league.
Worcester by contrast played, if their non-performance at Bristol can be described as such, three days ago and still have very pressing relegation concerns.
Add, as we are told by the GP PR machine, the fact that it will be a ‘new-look’ visiting team that takes on Danny Care, Ugo Monye and Nick Easter et al and one can but fear for the fate of their five debutants.
However he paints it – the current line is that it presents opportunities for untested rookies – Worcester director of rugby Mike Ruddock has had his hands tied by league organisers.
This match was supposed to be played in early January only to fall victim to the cold snap and despite attempts to stage it before now, Quins’ refusal to re-schedule it during the international window could prove to be the decisive factor.
Worcester are struggling with injuries and to make matters worse have had just 72 hours to prepare for tonight’s encounter. They even spent yesterday afternoon doing analysis on Saturday’s opponents Saracens. This is an unwanted and unloved fixture and Ruddock’s team selection shows it.
In the front row teenage loosehead Jack Gilding has played with Stourbridge in National Two and has struggled at times and Shaun Ruwers has never started a match in his two seasons at Sixways.
Lock David Lyons made a reasonable impression during a loan spell at Coventry, Greg King did likewise at Stourton Park and Michael Penn will be playing his first game of senior rugby – marking Monye.
In his position, still requiring six points for top flight security, Ruddock has to target certain games and Sarries at home was always more winnable.
“Midweek rugby is not an ideal situation in the Guinness Premiership at any time, but particularly at this moment of time when we are scrapping for every point we can get,” Ruddock said. “However, the postponement from earlier this season has created this difficulty.
“What it does to is provide an opportunity for a number of young players to get the chance to put their hands up and show that they have the ability to break through into the first team on a more regular basis.”
But while some are predicting a rout – and it may yet come to pass – a repeat of Sunday’s display when they conceded six tries to a side that has only won once all season, will not be tolerated.
Ruddock, as he must, denies his team showed a lack of effort but concedes the individual errors which they seemed to banish in the win over Gloucester, returned in their droves.
Willie Walker and Matthew Jones both missed open field tackles directly resulting in scores and that set the tone for an afternoon chasing shadows. The trip to south-west London might be similarly spent.
Meanwhile, the trip to Kingsholm originally scheduled for April 18, will now take place on Tuesday April 21, kick off 7.30pm, because of Gloucester’s progress to the final of the EDF Energy Cup.