Worcester Warriors booked a place in the European Challenge Cup final after a thrilling 31-16 victory over Newcastle Falcons in a dramatic night at Sixways Stadium.
First half tries from Marcel Garvey and Sam Tuitupou put Warriors in the driving seat before a power cut held up the game in the second half.
Warriors were not to be denied and late tries from Tom Wood and a late stunner from Tuitupou saw victory assured in the televised semi-final clash.
“We’re delighted to make the final and look foward to that game now, just one more win from the Heineken Cup,” said Director of Rugby Ruddock.
“Our defence held tight and was fantastic, we took our opportunities in the first half and the try just after the sin binning period was over was crucial.
“It was a big effort from the boys, they have come a long way this season and we are very proud of them.
“We had some great moments and our defence kept knocking them back. There was real pride, passion and commitment from the Warriors. They really were Warriors tonight.
“Pat led from the front and put his body on the line when we didn’t know if he would make it. We are so pleased for all of them.”
A pumped up home crowd greeted the Warriors and the home side were straight on the front foot with Pat Sanderson taking the kick off and making hard yards before Matt Powell’s grubber put Falcons in trouble.
The visitors got their hands on the ball and span it left and right before Jonny Wilkinson’s neat flick out to Jamie Noon just failed to find hands the ball was lost into touch.
Both teams were eager to run from deep and use an attacking and expansive style in front of a televised audience of millions across the globe.
An early lost lineout gave the Falcons possession but a big hit by back row Kai Hortsmann dislodged the ball. Newcastle were linking the play nicely together and took the lead when wing Tom May dropped into the pocked and slotted a sixth minute drop goal.
The visitors were winning the early but suddenly play switched to the other end as Dale Rasmussen smashed Noon and the loose ball was picked up by Marcel Garvey who sprinted in from the halfway line. Shane Drahm added the extras for a 7-3 lead to the delight of a rocking Sixways Stadium.
Craig Gillies stole more lineout ball for Warriors as the noise inside the stadium continued to grow before visiting full back Mathew Tait sprinted for touch with Greg Rawlinson bearing down on him. But seconds later the home lineout was lost and ball traded back.
Drahm was just short with a long range drop goal attempt after power packed play from the home forwards before Garvey made another electric break and just failed to find Miles Benjamin as he tore up on his shoulder.
Worcester were now firmly in the ascendancy and were giving the Newcastle backline a real pounding as they hunted a way through with neat offloads keeping the ball alive.
There was a real attacking verve about Warriors and they looked to have scored a second on 19 minutes when Matt Powell chipped over the top of May and raced to touch down. The scrum half was first to the ball but failed to ground the ball as he knocked on.
Newcastle had the put in at the scrum but were forcefully shunted back before Tait hurriedly kicked to touch. The visitors then made a mess of a lineout and the Warriors were straight on the attack. Tuitupou stepped inside Noon and when Garvey chipped ahead the New Zealand international was first to react to touch down to a huge ovation after a thrilling move. Drahm added the extras for a 14-3 lead.
Shell-shocked Newcastle responded with a sustained period of pressure with Wilkinson making a dart for space before the move broke down left through a forward pass between the visiting forwards.
Play was held up as England international Noon again struggled to get to his feet after a big hit, replaced by Tim Visser, before May was wide and short with an ambitious drop goal from 40 yards out.
Hooker Aleki Lutui made a barnstorming break through midfield but the ball was lost forward as Rawlinson tried to feed Tevita Taimoepeau and Newcastle took the chance to go long with a big punt from May clearing their lines.
A penalty for not releasing in the tackle allowed Falcons to end the half with the ball but all they could show for it was a late penalty for Wilkinson to reduce the lead at the break.
Worcester were handed a penalty straight from the restart after a stamp from visiting scrum half James Grindal and Drahm did the rest to nudge, via a post, Warriors further ahead.
The game was held up after a local power cut plunged Sixways into total darkness and the players left the field for 10 minutes while the floodlights were powered back up.
Newcastle started the better after the hold-up but after going left and right and stringing the phases together the ball found May who again sliced a drop goal attempt wide right.
Play was held up by a heavy knock to Rasmussen, in his first game back after concussion, but the Samoan smasher was soon back on his feet to a huge ovation.
The visitors looked to have made a break when Tim Visser jinked past his man and after rounding full back Thinus Delport looked to fly over only for a superb lunging tackle from Sanderson to stop him just short. Wilkinson, though, slotted a penalty to cut the lead.
Suddenly it was constant Newcastle pressure only for a rare knock on from Tait to hand back the ball. Warriors lost lock Greg Rawlinson to the sin bin on the hour but Wilkinson blotted his copybook with a rare miss wide right when he could have narrowed the lead. The home side continued to defend with huge effort and passion and when Garvey danced past men they were back on the attack. Rasmussen looked to go wide right but was halted short. The forwards then took the ball on and came up close.
Worcester made a trio of changes and with Jonny Arr, Will Bowley and Rico Gear all introduced to the action with ten minutes remaining.
The forwards pounding the Newcastle defence and Wood barged over before the decision went to the TMO. A nervous wait before Sixways exploded as the referee Allan gave the score. Drahm drilled the extra and Worcester were in the driving seat with time running out.
A late flourish saw Tuitupou crash over after another thrilling move as Warriors put the icing on a stunning performance before a late reply from Brent Wilson was no more than a consolation.
06m May dg 0-3
09m Garvey t Drahm c 7-3
22m Tuitupou t Drahm c 14-3
40m Wilkinson p 14-6
41m Drahm p 17-6
48m Wilkinson p 17-9
72m Wood t Drahm c 24-9
75m Tuitupou t Drahm c 31-9
78m Wilson t Wilkinson c 31-16
Warriors: 01 Tony Windo (Mullan 50), 02 Aleki Lutui (Ruwers , 03 Tevita Taumoepeau, 04 Greg Rawlinson, 05 Craig Gillies (Bowley 70) , 06 Drew Hickey (Wood 61), 07 Pat Sanderson (c), 08 Kai Horstmann, 09 Matt Powell (Arr 70), 10 Shane Drahm, 11 Miles Benjamin, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 13 Dale Rasmussen (Carlisle 77), 14 Marcel Garvey, 15 Thinus Delport (Gear 70)
Replacements: 16 Matt Mullan, 17 Shaun Ruwers, 18 Will Bowley, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Jonny Arr, 21 Joe Carlisle, 22 Rico Gear