Any negative assessment of Worcester’s season, which ended in pretty lackadaisical circumstances at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend, flirts with churlishness.
So let’s get one thing straight before we even start, Richard Hill and his Warriors have achieved their primary objective. They have done their job, hit their target, or whichever other phrase borrowed from the corporate lexicon you care to pick. For that they should be commended.
They have remained in the Premiership and not by the skin of their teeth but comfortably so, with time and room to spare. There was never a crisis, indeed there wasn’t even much drama.
And perhaps that explains why it is difficult not to feel just a little underwhelmed by Warriors’ first campaign back in the top flight.
Statistically speaking, and set in the context of six previous seasons of white-knuckle relegation battles, Hill has masterminded a perfectly creditable season. With 36 points and seven wins they have enjoyed their third best ever showing in England’s top division and they were technically safe well before the end of March. They have never conceded fewer points.
Yet aesthetically speaking it’s been a bit like cheering for the most ardent Puritans at a Roundhead Convention. The Premiership has been a cavalier-free zone for many years now and Worcester have fitted right in. Down with Christmas, down with idolatry and down with try scorers.
The situation was at its most acute in the important home match with Newcastle, the game which would decide whether Warriors would be sucked into the relegation bunfight or watch it from afar.
They won 19-9 despite the fact they were embroiled in – and by and large lost – an ultra-conservative kicking contest. Win the ball from set-piece, hoof it up-field and chase it as though your tail is on fire. A rum gameplan that.
Only when Blair Cowan came on did Warriors start crossing the gain-line and then suddenly Falcons looked like the dead ducks they have threatened to become for many years.
If anything the situation was even worse away from home, at Sale for instance, where Worcester went to win by three points and kicked everything, every little thing. They lost by three.
Overall it’s a wonder their threequarters haven’t needed neck operations after eight months of craning their heads skywards.
Which is a great shame because this year’s competition has been a pretty poor quality affair in which much of the fruit has hung a little lower than usual.
The top five sides apart Sale, Bath, Gloucester, London Irish and Wasps have all fluctuated from reasonable to rank and Hill must view his team’s failure to finish above three or four of them in a World Cup year as a missed opportunity.
“We weren’t to know the rest would under-perform so drastically,” he said last week. It is a fair comment but sadly not a flair comment.
Enough carping, though. There have been very many positives at Sixways this term, not least the return to front line coaching of the impressive Phil Larder, a gritty northerner who neither minces nor wastes words.
Sixty-seven-years-old he may be but his mind remains as sharp as a tack and his ability to motivate and convince players is nonpareil.
Under Larder, and Hill deserves credit for bringing such a forceful personality into his coaching structure, Worcester have suffocated the life out of many of their opponents. In round-ball parlance Hill made the laudable and subsequently vindicated decision, to build from the back first and use offensive defence as the first line of attack.
The second will hopefully come this summer as long as Warriors’ creaking forwards can be reinvigorated in terms of creating fast ball and a reliable supply from the set-piece.
They have done both on occasion this season. Worcester’s focus on turnover possession produced probably the most memorable incident of the 2012, when Marcel Garvey nicked the ball and sped 80m in front of the East Stand against local rivals Gloucester. The Mexican wave effect that followed his every step and the timing and context of his try made it a breathtaking image.
And it was difficult not to fall in love with Josh Drauniniu’s score against Saints last Saturday. The direct running, speed of recycling, movement off the ball and clinical execution were a pointer of things to come. Especially if Drauniniu can address the deficiencies in his game and deploy more regularly that heavenly sidestep of his.
On an individual basis the Fijian-born winger has been something of a slow burner in his first season at Warriors, while before he was injured Errie Claassens looked to be the find of 2011.
Since then a couple of other contenders have emerged, in the forwards where Sam Betty and Cowan have been exceptional, especially the latter whose ball carrying will make him a key player in the new Worcester.
And it has been good to see youngsters like Jake Abbott and the unnervingly mature Matt Kvesic make such strides in a collective campaign that has been positive – but not as positive as it could have been.