When Worcester were first promoted to the Premiership in 2004 few gave them much hope of survival.
Indeed, while their coaches at the time spoke of achieving ‘respectability’, commentators felt avoiding ‘doing a Rotherham’ should be their sole aim.
That, of course, was reference to the fate that befell the Titans a few months earlier who were relegated from the top flight without winning a game, without drawing one in fact. Twenty-two matches played, 22 defeats. No-one wants to ‘do a Rotherham’.
Fortunately John Brain’s Warriors didn’t. In fact they went on to establish their place at the top table, as the surly guests no-one wanted to sit next to and fewer still wanted to visit. Sixways was a hostile bearpit of a place where the fare was stodgy and the service came with a snarl.
Unfortunately, ten years on the current Worcester vintage find themselves staring down the barrels of the same gun, having played 12 league matches they are yet to taste victory. Sixways has become everyone’s favourite motorway service station where visitors enjoy dropping in for sustenance, even if it is over-priced.
Dean Ryan’s men have ten games to change that, ten games to emulate Brain’s boys and avoid relegation and if not, ten games to make sure they don’t become just the second team in two decades to go a whole league campaign without winning.
The first question is ‘Can they do it?’ Yes, they should win at least once. The second ‘How has it come to this?’ is less easily answered.
For a while now the club’s long-suffering supporters have been wondering how it got so bad and, from the moment he walked through the doors, Ryan himself has missed few opportunities to outline just how root and branch the change needs to be. One only hopes his conversations with his players are more positive.
But Warriors aren’t winless and bottom of the log because Ryan’s talked them there and anyone looking for a single explanation is destined for the fruitless search of the alchemist. It is a fool’s errand, there isn’t one reason, there are many.
Let’s start with those still at the club, and the current board are slap bang in the middle of the cross-hairs. Their decision to allow Richard Hill to recruit a squad and then expect Dean Ryan to play with it was extraordinary.
Worcester were effectively safe this time last year, when their recruitment would have kicked in for real and if there was a time to make a change it was then.
They must have known whether Hill was the man they wanted to take the club forward. They could have identified a successor at that stage and involved him in the recruitment while allowing Hill to complete the season.
A few years ago the scaling down of the club’s academy was also allowed to take place. They might say responsibility for that lay with whichever head coach/director of rugby was in charge at the time but as custodians of the club they should not have allowed such short-termism.
A generation of prospects, the oxygen of a first team, was allowed to walk away. The academy group was cut down from around 20 to about half-a-dozen who went to train with the first team. Warriors are paying the price now.
That was a significant nail in the coffin of the ageing squad. Ryan has spoken about players being at Sixways for their own reasons, which could be interpreted as a throw back to the late 1990s when Worcester provided a final top up to any journeyman’s pension fund.
But that culture began to erode during Mike Ruddock’s reign, when some players became over-empowered and self-serving. That ‘leadership’ group led the way to relegation.
And, of course, the age old seepage of players has undermined Worcester, especially in this transitional year when they have had to do without Andy Goode – who would have stayed under the right circumstances, Matt Kvesic and Matt Mullan. What Ryan would do for that trio.
Which is not to exempt the current DOR from any responsibility. Perhaps the change in style has been too much, too fast. Inconsistent selection has not helped and more positive public pronouncements might have better shaped perception of his team. What is clear is that this season is not the start of the malaise. Hopefully it will be the end.