Date: Friday 23rd March 2012
Kick-off: 19:45 (GMT)
Referee: Sean Davey
Worcester’s exit from the LV= Cup has meant it will have been almost three weeks since their last match, a 36-17 defeat away at Bath. But their last home game brought a shock win over Saracens and Friday nights under the Sixways lights are proving to be quite popular for Richard Hill’s side. Kai Horstmann will make his first appearance since September and add some much-needed bulk at number 8, while wing Marcel Garvey also returns to the side. The team will be led by the experienced half-back pairing Andy Goode and Shaun Perry, and they know a win against Newcastle is vital.
For Newcastle, this is one of their big chances. They sit eight points behind Wasps and 12 behind Worcester at the foot of the table, but with Wasps facing a tough trip to Northampton, a win could see Gary Gold’s side claw their way back into contention. You’d struggle to find a better time to introduce a Heineken Cup winning scrum-half into the team, and Peter Stringer will make his debut and form a brand new half-back partnership with Jimmy Gopperth. Stringer is one of seven changes made by Gold, with recently signed second-row James Goode also starting.
What to Expect:
It’s clear that this game might not be one for the purists. Worcester and Newcastle have the bluntest attacks in the Premiership, managing 15 and 21 tries respectively, and recent matches with both teams have been decided with the boot. Considering the kicking prowess of fly-halves Andy Goode and Gopperth, this game may follow a similar pattern. The recent burst of good weather offers hopes of attacking play though, with Stringer signed specifically to help Gopperth receive the quick ball that could unleash the likes of James Fitzpatrick in the centre. Worcester boast a threat of their own in wings Garvey and Miles Benjamin, but one feels whoever wins the kicking contest may leave victorious.
All Eyes On: Miles Benjamin & Peter Stringer
Benjamin was highly touted as a youngster in the England age groups, and perhaps his lack of further national recognition was a catalyst for his recent decision to move to Leicester next year. He has been in good form this season, having scored five tries, a third of Worcester’s total, and with three home matches left he’s promised to go out on a high.
When faced with a relegation battle it’s always handy to call upon a Heineken Cup winner and a player with years of experience at the very highest level. In Stringer, Newcastle have been able to do that. Mike Ford spoke in great detail of their plan to use Stringer to supply quick ball, with the hope that will provide Gopperth with sufficient time to control the game in the face of a fearsome Worcester defence.
Head to Head: Andy Goode v Jimmy Gopperth
Without these two fly-halves, both sides would be stuck. Though Goode has played second fiddle to Joe Carlisle at times, the ex-England player was pivotal in their victory over Saracens at Sixways. They will rely on him to be as effective with the boot this evening, with Gopperth, who surprised some by committing his future to Newcastle, once again in the upper echelons of the Premiership’s top points scorers. If this match becomes a kicking duel, both players will be happy to oblige.
Many were critical of Newcastle’s approach to their game against Harlequins, but they would counter it’s the sort of aggression needed in a relegation battle. They won’t be scared of a similar confrontation here, and with Stringer and Gopperth controlling the backs they could well sneak a win. Newcastle by three points.
by Tom James