WITH the two cup competitions having been little more than a hindrance to Worcester’s desperate scrap to retain their Aviva Premiership status, they could all of a sudden become vital to that dream.

Dean Ryan regularly bemoans his paper-thin squad, while a crippling injury list is doing his side few favours as they struggle to compete in the league.

Therefore, Warriors first XV regulars like Chris Pennell and Alex Grove have been wrapped up in cotton wool during the cup matches in a bid to keep them fit and firing for the main event.

As a consequence of that, young guns and fringe players have been given a chance each time the Premiership has taken a back seat and they have, almost to a man, grasped that opportunity with both hands.

Winger Josh Watkins and centre Max Stelling look real stars of the future, while Ben Howard has been unlucky that injury has restricted his chances to impress, but he too will be a fine player for years to come.

Add into the mix the ever-improving Richard de Carpentier, the superb Mike Williams and the enigmatic Josh Matavesi, as well as the nous of the likes of Jonathan Thomas and James Percival, then you have the makings of a team that can pick up the wins needed to pull off what would be a miracle in the second half of the season.

However, what happens in the next couple of weeks before the return to Premiership duty may have a massive impact on Worcester’s fortunes.

Prior to the Amlin Challenge Cup clash with Oyonnax at Sixways on Saturday, Warriors had lost 11 consecutive home matches in all competitions, confidence was at rock bottom and it was difficult to see where the next win was coming from.

Worcester have been written off as relegated already in many quarters, but it is impossible to overstate how important winning this Amlin Cup dead-rubber could be for their season as a whole.

After the final whistle, the Worcester dressing room was absolutely buzzing, packed to the rafters with all of the non-playing Warriors squad members flocking in to congratulate their buddies who had stopped the rot out on the pitch.

The win in terms of the competition was meaningless, but the effect it will have on morale will be huge. The players will feel like they have had a millstone removed from round their necks and that this could be the turning point.

Sixways felt like an altogether different place on Saturday. Dean Ryan even smiled during his press conference!

The confidence taken from this Amlin win can now turn into genuine momentum if it can be backed up in the upcoming duo of LV= Cup clashes at Sale Sharks and then at home to Exeter Chiefs.

If Warriors can build on the Oyonnax success with victories – or at least composed and competitive performances – over the next fortnight, Ryan will be able to lead his squad back into the Premiership dogfight with renewed belief for the rest of the season.

Given Warriors will have some key players returning from injury in time for the visit of Leicester Tigers on Friday, February 7 and the impending Six Nations will deprive several sides of their top players, maybe it isn’t all over for Worcester just yet.