Sale Sharks 15 Worcester Warrior 22
If the story writers could have claimed to have predicted Worcester’s first Premiership win of the season, a complete thumping of John Brain and Bristol, not even a clairvoyant on a lucky streak could have foreseen this.
It was a remarkable result, gleaned by a remarkable performance, and set against the backdrop of three inordinately poor performances in the preceding games, this was a win that may prove to be the turning point in Mike Ruddock’s reign.
Some disgruntled supporters have begun to ask questions about the security of the Welshman’s tenure yet this will chasten them with more answers than they can count.
Particularly gratifying was the performance of Shane Drahm whose final season at Sixways before he flies off to the pot of gold at the end of his Far Eastern rainbow has been something of a nightmare.
Out of form on the pitch and in trouble off it, the former Northampton fly half has not so much tarnished his legacy as delivered a rugby league style swinging arm tackle. But he was majestic last night.
Not only did he kick all five of his goal attempts and drop an impudent 25th minute goal, he illuminated a damp evening with the jinking break that set up Kai Horstmann’s try – the only one of the game.
Factor in the large slice of luck that aided Ruddock’s team and the outstanding defensive performance and the ingredients of this victory become clear.
“We talked about playing with the spirit of underdogs and style of champions,” director of rugby Ruddock said. “It was a difficult night but we did play with underdogs spirit and our try was a real champions’ try. It was well worked, well executed and proved the difference that ultimately gave us the result.
“I hope this is a turning point now. We have been close on a number of occasions as shown by our bonus point total. Today finally we got our result. You have got to pay tribute to the team for going this long and showing such passion and commitment.”
His opposite number Philippe Saint-Andre was rather less happy, indeed the Frenchman took umbrage at the fact just ten days earlier referee Wayne Barnes had visited Sixways to advise them on their discipline.
“He advised them very well,” Saint-Andre sniped. “On average they have 22 penalties but today they had only five.”
Nevertheless Worcester’s display was little short of heroic. They mustered a passion and translated that into a physicality rarely seen this season. Their penalty count was low, for them, their decision making was much, much better and their accuracy was near perfect.
Their half backs set the tone. Drahm started – for the first time in four games, like a man with a point to prove as did his partner Matt Powell. Both played a crucial role in the try.
By that time the visitors were already three points down following Charlie Hodgson’s third minute penalty as Worcester dipped an unwanted hand into a ruck.
Hodgson might have increased his team’s lead soon afterwards when he twice hacked on a pass from Sam Tuitupou that went to floor rather than a team-mate. Miles Benjamin raced back to distract the England man and Thinus Delport arrived to clear the danger.
That resulted in a scrum under the Warriors’ posts – prime attacking territory for Drahm in this mood. The 30-year-old stepped off one foot, then the other, raced past Sebastien Chabal’s arm tackle and 60 metres downfield.
Benjamin stormed up in support and though he was brought down almost immediately, Powell popped up at the ruck and arrowed a cross kick that Marcel Garvey and Oriol Ripol deflected down into Horstmann’s hands.
The No 8 gratefully accepted the gift and beat Chabal to the corner. Drahm’s touchline conversion – from the wrong side, was majestic.
Hodgson kicked a second penalty just after the midway point in the period before he and Drahm swapped drop goals to make it 10-9 to Ruddock’s men.
Just after the half hour Drahm boomed a 43m penalty between the sticks when Sebastien Bruno failed to roll away.
Perhaps the crucial juncture came in the build up to the interval when Chris Bell escaped down the left wing and Chabal looked to have wriggled over the line.
But Barnes was unsighted and did not award a score that would have swung the game.
Worcester spent nearly all of the second period penned back in their own half by Sale’s mounting pressure and the strong wind which had proved so helpful in the first. Yet all Sharks could muster were two more goals from Hodgson’s boot and a fleet of squandered try scoring chances.
With an hour gone and a slender 16-15 lead, Drahm landed a fourth penalty and then a fifth into injury time to not only confirm his renaissance but his team’s turned corner.
SALE: Cueto; Lamont, Bell, Thomas, Ripol; Hodgson, Martens (Wigglesworth 56); Sheridan, Bruno (Briggs 67), Turner, Fernandez Lobbe I (Schofield 54), Cockbain (Lund 74), Jones, Fernandez Lobbe J, Chabal. Replacements not used: Roberts, Laharrgue, Seveali’i
WORCESTER: Delport; Benjamin, Rasmussen, Tuitupou, Garvey (Pennell 63-75); Drahm, Powell M; Windo, Lutui (Mullan 80+1), Taumoepeau, Rawlinson, Gillies, Wood (Hickey 40), Sanderson, Horstmann. Replacements not used: Ruwers, Bowley, Powell R, Tucker
Referee: Mr W Barnes (RFU)