Best Of The Weekend: Worcester Set For Survival

Chris Pennell

Worcester hammer Bristol to ease away from relegation

Relegation battles don’t tend to serve up too many tries, and rarely do one team run away with it, but Warriors were dominant on Sunday afternoon. They were a penalty-try and a man to the good within two minutes, and had secured a bonus point before the first half was complete. The half-time score was a heady 31-10.

The West Country outfit gave it their best after the break, coming close to securing a double bonus point when Tom Varndell took his try total to 92 in the Premiership when he scored Bristol’s third try, putting them a mere 12 points down. However, Wynand Olivier had the final word as he kicked his way to the line. The 41-24 result leaves Bristol 7 points adrift, and with not many games to play, their fate looks sealed.

Wasps wreck The Rec, Quins win away, Tigers implode again, Saracens and Saints both victorious

Bath’s good run came crashing down against a Kurtley Beale inspired Wasps on Saturday. The Australian scored two of his team’s three tries, with Christian Wade adding the other, to maintain the Coventrian’s hold on top spot with a 24-3 win.

Harlequins won a wonderful see-saw fixture in Gloucester. The hosts went in 15-10 down at the interval, but built a 27-15 with less than ten minutes to go. Disaster struck when Richard Hibbard was sin-binned and the Londoners scored 15 unanswered points to steal the game, which doubled as a pivotal fixture for Champions Cup qualification.

Like Bath, Tigers has built up a steady pace after coming off the rails somewhat, but Exeter put them back in their place with a smash and grab job at Welford Road. Despite struggling in certain areas, they were so much more clinical than their hosts in a bonus-point 34-27 victory, which puts them well in the hunt for top spot.

Saracens welcomed back Billy Vunipola as they navigated a tricky fixture against Newcastle 35-27. Northampton also recorded an impressive win at Sale 32-12.

Leinster flex their muscles in Pro12

The Pro12 played out mostly as was expected at the weekend, with only the margins causing some raised eyebrows. Leinster were the biggest of the winners, as they trounced fellow top 4 outfit Scarlets 45-9. The bonus point puts them in a fantastic position for a home semi-final as the season enters its closing stages. It was a close run first forty minutes, with the scores set 12-9 after two Luke McGrath tries to a few Dan Jones penalties. The hosts ran riot after the interval, scoring from every angle and laying down a statement for the run-in.

Munster were rekindling a love affair with winning (after a very brief flirtation with losing), sinking Cardiff 23-13. Glasgow finally gave themselves their first thing to smile about since their progression to the Champions Cup quarters, when they walked all over Dragons, pummelling them 47-17. Ospreys and Ulster both won, but will feel senses of regret having failed to capture bonus points, beating Edinburgh 13-9 and Treviso 19-7 respectively. Connacht also continued with their quiet march up the table, scoring five tries against Zebre, who they beat 33-3.

Top 14 roundup

Castres and La Rochelle put in a phenomenal double-act to usurp Clermont at the top of the table. The former beat Auvergne 26-16, moving up to third themselves, whilst allowing La Rochelle the opportunity to capitalise, which they did with aplomb, turning over Toulouse 27-21 away. Racing’s uninspiring season continued, as they were embarrassed by lowly Grenoble 19-10. Pau and Bayonne played out a high-scoring 25-all draw and Lyon stalled Vern Cotter’s future Montpellier side 16-3. The other games looked like this: Stade Francais 32-9 Bordeaux, and Brive 15-5 Toulon.

Rugby Europe Championship

Germany continued their fine start to the Championship, keeping the pressure on Georgia and Romania with their victory over Belgium at the weekend. They outscored the visitors 4 tries to 3 in a 34-29 result. Georgia also won, albeit in a tense encounter in Spain, 20-10. Romania also showed some steel in a tough trip to Russia where they came away with a splendid 30-10 scoreline.

Super Rugby

There were, incredibly (if not all that surprisingly), an average of nearly 63 points scored in every Super Rugby game at the weekend. Yes, tries came thick and fast, and tight defences were at a premium – we have come to expect that – but who won? Force edged Reds 26-19 in an Aussie derby, and were the only team from their conference to win. Rebels were slaughtered by champions Hurricanes 71-6, whilst Waratahs lost to Lions 55-36 and Brumbies also lost to South African opposition in the form of the Sharks 27-22. Crusaders came from 27-6 down to defeat Highlanders 30-27, and in the other all-NZ fixture Chiefs beat Blues 41-26. Stormers saw off Jaguares 32-25, Cheetahs squeezed past Bulls 34-28 and Southern Kings beat fellow whipping boys Sunwolves by 37 points to 23.

Hero of the week

The Worcester coaching team deserve a lot of credit for going into a tense relegation battle with a mindset of more than just keeping it tight and grinding out a result. They were great value for a big win. Honourable mention to Nigel Owens and the ball boy who he awarded a yellow card to. Watch the video; it sums up the spirit of the game.

Villain of the week

Casting doubt over your future on Twitter is an incredibly negligent thing to do. So, even though he says he was taking responsibility, Laurie Fisher deserves this ‘award’ for putting his side in a more uncomfortable position than they were already in.

Try of the week

Bryce Heem’s first for Worcester was important and quality on so many levels. It sealed the game before the interval, secured a bonus point and it also owed to a brilliant pass before showing a quality finish. As usual, my choice for this is entirely open to debate…….

Discussion points

Bristol’s season has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, but can they salvage it? If so, which games will they win?

The top three positions all look fairly well set, but who will sneak that all-important fourth place in the Pro12?

The French league has a number of surprise packages going well, but who looks best-placed?

Is it time to start thinking about expanding the World Cup to give teams like Germany and Spain exposure?

Does the Super Rugby philosophy of more tries=more entertainment work for you?

By Joe Large

24 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Worcester Set For Survival

  1. Certainly time to think about expanding the World Cup to embrace some of the developing nations, but even more important to give their international teams and top clubs regular exposure to better class opposition. There should definitely be promotion and relegation to and from the six nations. Offering places to national teams from the second tier in European club competitions would also give them a better level of competition. “Scholarships” for promising young players from Spain, Russia, Georgia, Rumania etc would improve the level of young players coming through, and sabbaticals for their coaches to work with top clubs should be encouraged. The IRB seems to pay lip service to the idea of expanding the game, but when you get the sort of protectionism being shown by the Six Nations and nothing is done about it, change will be slow to come.

  2. I like the idea of the RWC following the format 7’s tournaments do – a cup, bowl, plate set-up would keep teams engaged, and allow them to fight for placings outside the top 4….I hate Basketrugby. The idea that more tries equals more fun is nonsense…rugby is a nuanced game, and the joy is in all parts.

  3. As a Bristol fan, yesterdays game was none too enjoyable. However, enormous credit must be due to Worcester as they capitalised on every single Bristol error, as well as defending superbly, and really squeezing the life out of the Bristol attack.

    Clutching at straws the next games see Gloucester visit Bristol, and Worcester go to Wasps, so it is reasonable to see Bristol reduce the points difference there.

    After that though Bristol play Exeter, Wasps and Saracens so it is really difficult to see any survival coming from there!

  4. Not on the list above but I’d quite like to see a discussion started around ring fencing a Premiership with 14 teams. It would make sense to start off with the 12 in it this year plus London Irish and Yorkshire Carnegie.

    Clubs need to be able to invest long term to develop, and I think ring fencing in this way is the only way to do it.

    Addition fixtures may be a problem, but can we not just rid ourselves of the LV Cup? It’s not exactly anything to do with first team rugby anymore.

    1. LV is usually played during internationals (autumn/6N) so this would mean more prem. games where teams are missing 1st team players. Though I agree it is a bit of a pointless cup.

      Would ring-fencing not be detrimental to teams in the lower leagues? I imagine most are not considering promotion all the way to the prem. but some surely have promotion as a goal. Removing the carrot of promotion at the end of the season may leave those teams with little to compete for.

      1. It would, but with ring fencing it could well mean bigger squads (more long-term investment). It should also mean that those youth players that get a chance do so in a genuinely competitive game as opposed to a glorified academy game.

        I have always disagreed with ringfencing for that reason, but I just don’t think the current system works. Championship teams have massive trouble trying to go from semi-professional to full time, and it can often lead to London Welsh type situations. I think it’s more likely that we will see that happen again than an Exeter happen again.

        Having, for example, a 5 year ring fencing period would be sensible. If a club outside of the 14 selected then applied to become a Premiership member based on building up a sustainable business with credible facilities then that could be considered and the opportunity to become a Prem side could be there.

        Realistically though, participation/spectator levels means that it is not sustainable to have much more than 14 full on professional rugby teams in England so it’d make sense to have a real quality league where teams could invest knowing their position was secure.

        1. I used to disagree strongly with the idea of closing the top division and ending promotion and relegation. However having seen London Welsh fall apart and the seeming increasing gap between the Premiership and the Championship a 14 team top league makes more and more sense to me.

          And if Leeds was part of that then establishing those 14 as regional teams with the rest of amateur rugby as feeder clubs could be done without too many problems of coverage (although some would remain – trying to divide up Bath and Bristol would be hard).

    2. Completely disagree with you on this Jacob. It is vital that ambitious clubs can aim for the apex of the pyramid. Ring fencing is anti-competitive and gives the teams in the lower regions of the Prem nothing to fight for in the latter half of the season. If the concern is that clubs lack the financial muscle to survive then give them a greater financial injection to help them stay up for their first season or protect them from relegation for the first year. Exeter have stayed up, Worcester look like doing so this year and will get stronger, and there are four or five teams with the medium term potential to do something similar. The same principle applies to the six nations.

      1. Understand that side of it, and I use to be of the same opinion, but I just don’t think it’s sustainable. We’re more likely to see a London Welsh than an Exeter…

        For me the finances are important here. Yes, the RFU could pump money into clubs coming up however that’s not sustainable. There just isn’t enough money is rugby union in England to support 20 properly professional clubs so all you’re doing is redistributing funds and spreading them thinner across more clubs. Unless we suddenly see millions more people turning up to watch professional rugby union it just isn’t possible to have a load more professional clubs.

    3. As an Exeter fan, I am strongly opposed to anything closely resembling a ‘ring-fencing’ of the Premiership, as well as stopping the LV Cup. By ring-fencing the Premiership, you start to lose the competition within it, especially for those clubs near the bottom of the league, who then have nothing to play for for around 5-6 games, as they can’t realistically obtain European Champions Cup places, which means a drop in supporters watching games as they are effectively pointless.

      Furthermore, the main issue with promotion from the Championship was the fact that teams didn’t know if they had been promoted until late May/early June due to the playoff system and so couldn’t recruit properly (just look at London Welsh), but this system has now been scrapped, so we should see much better recruitment from promoted teams from now on.

      On a side note about the LV Cup, whilst its not as prestigious as other trophies, its extremely important in blooding younger players and giving them high-level game time. Players from Exeter, such as Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Dave Ewers, and Sam Hill, wouldn’t have progressed as quickly without the LV Cup, and I’m sure the same can be said for players from other cups. It’s also a great feeling when your team wins it, such as Exeter did back in 2014, and there was a great buzz around the club and the city in winning our first every major trophy.

      1. On game attendance/interest in games for those at the bottom of the league, my understanding is that all data on Super Rugby fixtures of this type don’t have an issue. Often that freedom allows teams to throw the ball around and actual creates great fixtures.

        Whilst I think that scrapping the Championship play off is a good thing, I don’t think it solves the problem. London Welsh just couldn’t afford Premiership players based on their supporter base and structure. Richmond (their real home) is dominated by Quins fans. I live in South West London and there just isn’t the support for a second team within miles of here. Just look as Wasps for evidence of that. It was then clear that the people of Oxford weren’t much interested in rugby union either. Exeter is the anomoly, not the rule.

        LV Cup – I’m mixed on this. I don’t see why these players wouldn’t simply get exposure in more Premiership fixtures if there were more of them during the international windows, thus giving them the exposure whilst also playing at a better level.

  5. Did anyone see the Sarries game, where Billy threw a long pass to Mako who in turn kicked through for Ashton to chase? Great bit of skill.

    Hoping they both come through the week and are fit for selection on Saturday. Huge boost.

    1. A pretty fantastic piece of play considering Mako has only been back for about two weeks and it was Billy’s first game back. Looks like he’s never been out at all!

    2. I did not, and would like to. Have looked for a clip online, but without success. Does anyone have a link they could share? Cheers.

        1. Don’t think that’s over-hyped. A very good pass from a number 8 who some used to describe as a touch one-dimensional and who has only just returned from injury.

          Followed by a decent kick into space from a prop! A fly half would have felt quite happy with that kick. For a prop to have done it is nothing short of miraculous.

          Normally props putting boot to ball does not end up well…

        1. Sorry for repeating this link but Jakes wasn’t showing until I had submitted my comment.

          I wish people would stop asking me to work when I’m trying to comment on here!! Lol

  6. I think the gap between pro, semi-pro and good amateur is increasing season on season. Having played up to the championship I can assure you it is a miserable existence – living on £600 per month unless you have parental subsidies – all in the hope you can make it. I’d suggest that the top two leagues get ring-fenced, with the Championship being funded by the RFU to provide a more competitive league for emerging academy players and high value tier two players. The prem increased to 14, and reviewed every three years…..

  7. Slightly off-tangent, did anyone see the Leicester v Exeter game, and the stat they were pulling up about team work rates and that Exeter seemed to have a significantly better one than Leicester? I haven’t noticed them do this stat before, have I just missed it, or is it a new one they are working on and if so, is there comparators for the rest of the Premiership sides?

    1. I think its BT sports new ‘go-to’ stat. Its only been used in the Leicester Exeter game so far so I think, I haven’t seen any Prem wide tables although I’d be surprised if there’s any other team that tops Exeter’s Work:Rest ratio.

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