Worcester Warriors 18 Northampton Saints 23
Another listless performance and another pitiful loss. Worcester’s seventh Premiership defeat of the season cuts them adrift at the bottom of the table and while they can take comfort in the knowledge the only way is up, the question remains can they find it?
After another non sell-out, virtually unheard of last season and somewhat disappointing given the importance of this game, all eyes now turn to Cecil Duckworth, the club’s loyal chairman and benefactor.
Duckworth must ask himself and those around him a series of very searching questions. He could be forgiven for scratching that wise old head of his.
Does the current plight of the first team in any way jeopardise the wider development of Worcester Rugby Club? Duckworth has grand plans for his own miniature Chelsea Village but can he afford it and does he want it if his team is not in the top flight?
Is there a chance the club will lose that status? If the evidence of the last seven games is anything to go by it would be difficult to conclude that chance does not exist.
Does it matter if Worcester finish bottom? National One is shaping up into a right old tear-up, five teams separated by just three points and only one of which — Leeds — can be certain of fulfilling the exacting Premiership entry requirements.
So many questions and so few league games in which to find the answers. The next of those, on Friday at Harlequins, now assumes seismic proportions.
Worcester’s points deficit is seven — a win and a half — but in reality they need two victories to turn momentum around. They have produced only three of those in the last 19 attempts.
After watching his side flap and flail against the quality of Steve Thompson and Carlos Spencer, director of rugby, John Brain, whose future could be another of those problems concerning Duckworth, emphasised the urgency of the situation.
"If you are bottom with three points you cannot but be alarmed," Brain affirmed. "We have got to string a couple of wins together. At times like this it is quite difficult to see your way through things but we have got to find a way.
"A couple of wins and all of a sudden you are virtually mid-table the way this league is running at the moment.
"Some areas in our game were OK, there is no denying that, but we lack composure at vital times. The game was there to be won but we lacked that composure. However, I don’t think you can fault the desire and commitment."
Brain ruled out the prospect of trying to buy his way out of trouble. He asserts that players of the requisite quality are not available but feels the way ahead is for more of the same.
"The answer lies in getting the players we have got to perform better," he said. "I will attempt to do that as long as someone tells me otherwise."
So physical, mental, tactical and selectoral alchemy it is then. Heaven knows it needs something special to turn this mish mash of a performance into something other than a loss bonus.
It should be mentioned Worcester were without half a pack. Pat Sanderson was away enduring even worse torments with England, Chris Horsman and Tevita Taumoepeau were off knocking heads for Wales and the Pacific Islanders respectively — the latter supported by Aleki Lutui — and of course Tony Windo hasn’t played this season.
Thirty-seven-years old he may be but, by not playing, his influence has never looked so important.
In their place is a group of forwards that is undoubtedly working itself to the point of exhaustion. To their credit they produced enough possession and territory to dispose of their visitors.
But with the pace and direction of Ryan Powell’s pass deserting him at crucial times and the centre pairing of Thomas Lombard and Dale Rasmussen desperately needing space, all Shane Drahm could do was twist, turn, poke and prompt his team to the best of his massive ability.
The same cannot be said of Worcester’s back three who were awful. Mark Tucker looks out of sorts, out of position and out of ideas on the wing — Thinus Delport must surely be a better option — Aisea Havili is a shadow of last season’s threat and Lee Best had an absolute shocker.
At least Havili bagged a try — just his second of the campaign — as did Tom Harding as Worcester kept pace with Saints and had the match tied at 18-18 with 12 minutes to go.
That was until Steve Thompson cheekily scored his second and his team’s third with a trick lineout down the short side.
Spencer missed the conversion and in truth had he been more precise with his kicking — he missed ten points in all — Worcester might not have even taken a bonus point. Perhaps the only way might be down.
WORCESTER: Best; Havili, Rasmussen, Lombard, Tucker; Drahm, Powell R; Fortey L, Gotting (Fortey C 60), Morris, Blaze (Collier 40), Gillies, Horstmann, Harding, Hickey (Quinnell 60). Replacements: Black, Powell M, Brown, Delport.
NORTHAMPTON: Vass; Howard, Davies (Going 73), Quinlan, Wyles (Diggin 40); Spencer, Robinson; Smith, Thompson, Barnard (Tonga’uhia 66), Damien Browne, Gerard, Tupai, Fox, Easter. Replacements: Hartley, Lord, Daniel Browne, Mallon
Referee: Mr M Fox (RFU)