Rugby Correspondent Brian Dick on the former Bath man's rise at Sixways...
Simon Whatling has waited a long time for this moment. Today when he runs out at Sixways for the Premiership match between Worcester and Bath, the stubby little inside centre will be fulfilling a boyhood dream. But not quite in the way he imagined.
Instead of emerging clad in the royal blue of his home-town team, the 21-year-old will be wearing the hosts' darker shade and making his league debut against the club he grew up desperate to represent.
The plan was going rather nicely, too, until Bath released him from their academy in the summer of 2004, whereupon Worcester scooped him up and embarked on a process designed to polish him into the play-maker his pedigree suggests he will one day become.
This afternoon's match represents the next stage in that process as Whatling, having made his full first-team bow in the European Challenge Cup win against Connacht just over a fortnight ago, gets the chance to make Bath pay for their lack of foresight.
The most recent England Under-21 captain - he skip-pered the Red Rose youth in their last match in the World Championships earlier this year - retains his place in the team ahead of Dale Rasmussen, who was not available when Worcester's attention turned away from the necessity of the Premiership to the nicety of continental competition.
According to Warriors' director of rugby John Brain, the youngster has been sufficiently impressive in the double-headers against the Irish province to deserve a place in the big league.
"He did well against Connacht at home and did okay away," said Brain. "At the moment, he has justified his first XV selection - we have got to reward decent performances and, in Dale's absence, that is what he has been producing."
Brain is no doubt aware of the significance of Whatling's inclusion. He refused to censure today's opponents for letting him slip through their net - "We all make mistakes" is his generous assessment - and backed Whatling to repay his faith.
"We have got confidence that he will do a good job," he predicted.
"He has got some leadership potential and he's not afraid to take responsibility on the field."
Which is exactly what will be required of him. Whatling has been promoted in the knowledge that he has more to his game than many of his more direct club-mates.
Brain describes him as a footballing No 12 who is equally adept putting his boot to the ball as distributing it with the aplomb of your average stand-off.
It is a combination of skills that persuaded Worcester to offer him a two-year contract in the off-season and issue an invitation to train with the senior squad.
In effect, 12 months after being released by the club he loved, Whatling was on the brink of a professional career. It is a change that means he can view the incident as containing more silver lining than cloud.
"Coming here has been a good decision," Whatling agreed. "I cannot fault the club, it is a really welcoming place to be, from meeting and saying hello to the cleaner in the morning right the way up to John Brain.
"I don't look back on it [being released] as a bad thing, I see it as a positive thing, something I can learn from and learn to deal with."
Subsequent vindication means he holds no animosity towards Bath. "Every player goes through it. I was straight out of school, they were looking for the next big thing to come through - these things happen and life goes on.
"It was disappointing at the time. It's every boy's dream to play at their local club, to go up through the ranks and play ten years there. Unfortunately, life is not like that, you deal with the set-backs and it's about how you do that.
"Being released is one of the things that are part and parcel in rugby - you can't dwell on it, you just have to make sure that you get on, improve and keep progressing."
Which he has done admirably. A string of impressive performances, many at fly-half, in Worcester's A team propelled him into contention for a game when the Power-gen Cup and Challenge Cup came round.
He made a couple of substitute appearances in the former and started the 30-20 win against the men from Galway earlier this month. His display that day imbued him with the belief he'll need today.
"I thought it went really well. It was a great feeling to run out at Sixways - even though it wasn't a packed house," he said.
"Playing with the senior guys like Pat [Sanderson], Reg [Tony Windo] and a few of the more experienced lads was a really good eye-opening experience."
Eye-opening for both player and coach, apparently.
Another such episode this afternoon and Whatling could be on the way to following his Under-21 team-mate, Leicester's Tom Varndell, into the full England side.
"I would like to stay here and play my rugby here - anything else that comes from that is great," he said.
"I am only 21and I have got to earn my place. The future will take care of itself, as long as I work hard and do all the professional things."..SUPL: