A young Warriors A team came within a whisker of rewarding a record Monday night Sixways crowd with a win against a powerful Sale Jets side, falling a point short at 20-21 after a thrilling finale.
There was disappointment in the home dressing room afterwards that chances to win the game had been spurned, but the quality of the lineout and the adventure of the back line were positives that can be taken into next Monday’s clash with Leicester Tigers A at Welford Road.
Watched by first-team stars Thinus Delport, Matt Powell, Thomas Lombard and Chris and Lee Fortey – who’d joined supporters in the Clubhouse before the match – the young Warriors side looked well-drilled in defence as Sale showed early signs of the kind of game they’d come to play. Worcester conceded a couple of early penalties for offside at the ruck – one a kickable effort that fly half David Blair failed to make pay – but worked hard to gather themselves and build a solid driving platform as soon as they enjoyed decent possession and field position for the first time.
The speed of wingers Uche Oduoza and Martin Freeman, and the timing of openside flanker James Collins’ arrival on scrum half Nick Runciman’s shoulder to break the gain line, caused the Jets problems the first time they found space in the open a couple of minutes later. All three combined off Runciman’s quick ball from the base of the scrum after nine minutes to give Oduoza a short run to the line. Jamie Lennard’s kick for extras drifted right of the posts, but the 1,203 crowd had been warmed.
Oduoza didn’t leave it long before bringing them back into voice when his sparkling run from deep left five Sale defenders grasping fresh air. But his final cut inside saw the last gap closed and the thrill building amid the expectant onlookers ended in disappointment.
Sale lost scrum-half Chris Leck to injury soon after, but replacement Will Cliff picked up the reins and conducted the visitors’ reply. Aided in part by Warriors occasional tendency to stand off at the breakdown, they strung together a four-minute period of sustained pressure. When it mattered, though, man of the match Will Bowley, captain Tom Wood, Collins, Matt Cox and Craig Everett rediscovered their concentration and discipline as body after body took its turn to try breaking through.
They were called on to dig deep again after 25 minutes, when Jets full back Rhys Jones – son of former Warriors captain Kingsley – watched his long downfield kick take a lucky bounce away from fly half Joey Carlyle, setting up a fresh drive for the line. Sale pressed and drew Worcester into one infringement too many, and referee Llyr Roberts awarded the penalty try.
The score added an extra spring to the visitors’ step, but Warriors met the threat with equal intensity until fly half Blair – brother of Scottish scrum half Mike – threw a sweet dummy in midfield, 15m out, and eased across the line on 35 minutes. He converted to make it 5-14.
Undimmed, Warriors won the restart and, after James Collins forced a path open, launched a swift backline attack. When the move broke down, the play was called back for a penalty that Jamie Lennard slotted home.
The full back left the pitch for running repairs, five minutes into the second half, as Warriors started the period determined to close the gap further and without delay. They set up camp in front of the barstanders’ paddock and, with Bowley and Everett at the centre of the effort, sucked Sale into penalty after penalty. Eventually, with the pack rolling towards the line, Mr Roberts awarded the penalty try, to the delight of a crowd that believed it had come at least two infringements too late.
A Matt Cox knock-on at the restart put Warriors on the back foot, however. James Collins put in a battering tackle to prevent one run to the line, off a short pass, but no one could repeat the hit as skipper Matt Riley broke through and touched down beneath the posts after 55 minutes. Rhys Jones converted to put Sale 21-15 ahead.
The game, though, was still there to be won and – refreshed by the arrival of Ricky Whitehall and Sam McDonald in the pack – Warriors raised the tempo. They picked up, passed, ran and drove until winning the key penalty, only for Carlyle’s crucial kick for the corner to drop the wrong side of the try-line post and a catch-and-drive chance went begging.
Undaunted, they set about repeating the tactic, but Sale won a turnover and relieved the pressure with their own midfield charge that faltered with a knock-on on the Worcester 22. Within two minutes, however, they were back defending close to their own line after Alex Groves broke the line at speed and sprinted towards the line. Martin Freeman took the pass, but Sale managed to barrel him into touch.
Warriors weren’t done, though. They quickly regained possession and returned to the corner. Three minutes of non-stop pressure was eventually rewarded when prop Matt Mullan touched down as the Worcester pack hammered their way over. With the conversion promising a one-point lead, and the crowd ready to rejoice, Lennard’s kick slid frustratingly wide.
It still left seven minutes to work a final scoring chance. They harried and hassled Sale from the restart until a penalty kick gave them a lineout on the Sale 22. A clean take set the backline going and Craig Everett carried the move to within 10m of the line, wide on the left, before Sale finally battened the hatches and cleared their lines. The visitors won the stray lineout that followed, and mauled their way to the final whistle.
“It’s a very disappointed dressing room,” manager Andrew Stanley said afterwards. “We had chances to win and didn’t take them. We missed opportunities to gain attacking field position and crucial turnovers cost us dear.
“It will give us something to work on closely in the next few days. With Leicester on Monday, it’s a big challenge and one the boys relish. They can go there and give a good account of themselves and put a good performance in.”
9m 5-0 Oduoza t
28m 5-7 penalty, Blair c
33m 5-14 Blair t, c
37m 8-14 Lennard p
52m 15-14 penalty, Owens c
55m 15-21 Riley t, Jones c
73m 20-21 Mullan t
Team: 01 Matt Mullan, 02 Jordan Page (Whitehall 59), 03 James Tideswell, 04 Tom Wood (c), 05 Will Bowley, 06 Matt Cox (McDonald 59), 07 James Collins, 08 Craig Everett (Hughes 77), 09 Nick Runciman, 10 Joey Carlyle, 11 Martin Freeman, 12 Alex Grove, 13 Greg King, 14 Uche Oduoza (Fellows 41), 15 Jamie Lennard (Owens 45 blood)
Replacements: 16 Ricky Whitehall, 17 Matt Deacon, 18 Sam McDonald, 19 Dave Hughes, 20 Will Runciman, 21 Harry Owens, 22 Charlie Fellows, 23 Vince Lanciano, 24 Loti Molatika
Man of the Match: Will Bowley