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Perpignan 13 Worcester Warriors 6
6:50pm Sunday 16th December 2012 in Sport
THE hostile, unforgiving atmosphere of the Stade Aime Giral is not for the faint-hearted, but Warriors showed their character in the hotbed of French rugby despite a result that leaves the club’s Amlin Challenge Cup bid looking bleak.
Only a victory or draw was likely to be enough to keep European dreams alive.
Defeat means Worcester will now almost certainly need the unlikely scenario of Perpignan slipping up against minnows Rovigo or Bizkaia Gernika to progress to the last eight.
But, despite a losing bonus point being all Warriors could muster from a bruising cup clash, head coach Richard Hill was still left with plenty to build upon going into the league double-header with London Welsh and Sale Sharks.
Hill warned his Warriors Perpignan would ditch the conservative approach of a week earlier at soggy Sixways in favour of a free-flowing game.
His words certainly rang true as the hosts looked to open up whenever possible, backed by a vociferous, vocal home crowd.
Perpignan, though, could never pull away from a well-drilled, confident Warriors side who never looked outclassed and battled until the dying moments to try and force an upset.
The visitors were left to reflect on a self-inflicted game-changing moment in the opening minutes.
They dominated the early exchanges and should have taken an early lead only to have a penalty reversed for indiscipline.
A high up-and-under into the night sky from Wales international James Hook looked too long to cause alarm, but Andy Goode and Semisi Taulava both went for the ball.
When it span loose, the beneficiary was full-back Richard Haughton who cantered over unopposed.
Twice, Hook nudged Perpignan further ahead while Worcester’s bid was not aided when captain Dean Schofield limped off on the half-hour.
But the confidence in the Worcester camp refused to subside with Goode, typecast as a panto villain throughout by the home crowd who jeered every touch, slotting a long-range penalty to cut the lead to 13-3 at the break.
The second-half proved a titanic affair with Warriors repelling any Perpignan attack and responding in kind.
Goode cut the lead to seven points while Perpignan’s desperation to finish the game off showed as Hook miscued an ambitious drop goal.
A thrilling final five minutes saw Warriors give everything they could to force the draw but ultimately fell just short as the teams finished locked together at the top of Pool Two.
The destiny of the last eight is now out of Worcester’s hands but, judging by the character shown on French soil, no-one will be throwing in the towel just yet.