Worcester’s star-studded backline will tomorrow cede the spotlight to their less illustrious counterparts in the forwards in what Mike Ruddock is predicting will be an ‘arm wrestle’ of a Premiership clash with Bristol.
The Warriors director of rugby believes a soggy weather forecast and the opposition’s troubled situation at the foot of the table will turn his team’s latest match into something of a slugfest in which inspiration will give way to perspiration.
That will place the emphasis on events up front and a home pack that is likely to feature at least five players brought to Sixways by visiting forwards coach John Brain during his six year tenure.
And just as Brain, who moved to the Memorial Stadium in 2007, will recognise most of the faces in the Worcester line-up, there is every chance their tactics will ring a bell too as Warriors fight Bristol’s forward-fire with their own.
“It is going to be a bit damp and the pitches are heavy so it will be a major arm wrestle,” Ruddock said. “The territorial game will be important as will doing the basics well in attack and defence and being well-disciplined.”
That was something Warriors had to do in their last game at home to Bourgoin which, for an hour, was locked in a cycle of kicked penalties.
Fly half Joey Carlisle failed to thrive in that environment and will be replaced by loan player Eoghan Hickey who, having been schooled at Munster, is well used to kicking the corners and letting his pack go to war.
The conditions will not be the only factor, however. Brain’s specialism – attritional forward-play, is well suited to the dire circumstances in which the visitors currently find themselves.
With just one win from their first eight league matches and abundant rumours about their financial security Bristol are everyone’s favourites for relegation. Except their own.
“It is a massive game, particularly for Bristol,” Ruddock said. “They will want to come here and beat us and take revenge for the two wins we had against them last season.
“I was listening to Mark Regan’s comments on the radio after Sunday and he said they would be fired up for this fixture. I went to watch them against Northampton and have briefed my players accordingly. We have done a hell of a lot of home work for this fixture and will be well prepared.”
Chris Latham comes back in after a knee injury, is in his first winter at Worcester. The Australian will be joined by Chris Pennell although Rico Gear.
Up front, Matt Mullan and Greg Rawlinson will be refreshed for their rest last weekend.