Guinness Premiership: Saracens 17 Worcester 20
What was all the fuss about? Worcester fans had spent seven months waiting for a Premiership victory and, in the end, it took just 20 minutes to deliver.
Playing at their listless worst, the Sixways side were adrift by a 17-3 margin at half time, only to emerge from their isotonic drinks with renewed belief.
They spent the third quarter bashing away at the barricades — as usual, with more effort than precision — until suddenly, in the 61st minute, the passes stuck and the Saracen defences gave way.
Having spent virtually all of the second period camped in the home 22, Chris Fortey finally found his aim at a series of lineouts close to the line and was then smuggled over by his dominant pack.
Shane Drahm converted and, at seven points, the deficit was less a chasm than a pothole. It was duly negotiated ten minutes later when Gavin Quinnell barged his way to his first Premiership try.
Drahm added the icing to the Welshman’s cake and then came up with the cherry when, deep into added time, he swept over a sumptuous dropped goal to hand his side their first league win of the season.
They’re still bottom, seven points from safety, but with their demons exorcised and Pat Sanderson and a brace of Tongans preparing to return from international duty, things no longer look so bad.
Make no mistake, this performance was not perfect. Even when they were in the ascendancy, their scrum was torn asunder by a powerful Saracens front three and, in the opening exchanges, their lineout was about as profitable as a slot machine — until Phil Murphy was sent on to sort it out.
The big lock did just that. Not only did he claim the ball that Fortey rammed over, his introduction, 15 minutes after the restart, steadied the set piece and with Craig Gillies back to his best, the hosts’ lineout was decimated.
That gave Worcester the platform and the confidence to mount their comeback and for once it was their replacements, not their opponents’, that swung proceedings.
Drahm got the threequarters moving and kicked an all-important eight points, Quinnell made the hard yards up the middle and Tony Windo — happily recovered from shoulder surgery — was back to keep his team-mates’ heads on the job. By the end, Worcester were much more Worcester-like.
Admittedly, the conditions suited them. This match was played on a pitch where a ball-carrier could start his slide for the try-line on the 22 and still aquaplane through the back. There was even some discussion beforehand as to whether the game should go ahead.
But the ball was wet for both teams and no one could argue that the visitors had the wherewithal and power to adapt accordingly.
Quinnell’s try was classic wet-weather rugby. Quick ball off the top was swung left and Dale Rasmussen, Fortey, Mark Tucker and the flanker himself all inched possession forward.
At 22 stones, the former Llanelli lad is deadly from five metres and even Phil Larder couldn’t come up with a system to stop him from there.
The 61-year-old defensive specialist took his first session with Worcester last week, though it has to be said there’s still work to be done.
Although Warriors didn’t need their rearguard in the second half, it looked suspiciously porous in the first.
James Brown had given the Midlanders a second-minute lead by the time Thomas Castaignede took Andy Farrell’s short pass back against the grain and hurtled over.
Glen Jackson converted, made it 10-3 with a penalty on the quarter-hour and then bashed through Thinus Delport’s powder-puff tackle just before the break. Another goal made the advantage 14 points.
That prompted the introduction of Windo but, although Worcester began to dominate territorially, the accuracy was still missing.
The veteran loosehead and Drew Hickey were caught crossing to waste their first decent opportunity and then Worcester lost a throw-in when Tom Harding knocked on a loose ball.
Drahm’s grubber in front of the Sarries’ posts was dealt with easily and then they were penalised in their own five-metre scrum as their front row popped up.
It was all too familiar but then Murphy, Drahm and Quinnell joined Windo in the breach and Worcester’s season was out of the blocks.
SARACENS: Castaignede; Scarbrough, Sorrell, Farrell, Vaikona; Jackson, de Kock; Yates, Byrne (Cairns, 62), Visagie, Ryder (Fullarton, 62), Chesney, Vyvyan, Seymour (Gustard, 69), Skirving. Replacements: Mercey, Dickens, Penney, De Vedia.
WORCESTER: Delport; Havili, Rasmussen, Lombard, Tucker (Garvey, 79); Brown (Drahm, 51), M Powell (R Powell, 80+2); Morris (Windo, 40), Fortey, Horsman (Morris, 51), Gillies, Collier (Murphy, 51), Horstmann, Harding, Hickey (Quinnell, 62). Replacement: Gotting.
Referee: M Fox (RFU).