MUCH-improved Worcester Warriors rose to the challenge of tackling Leicester Tigers, but were edged out 23-22 in a gut-wrenching Aviva Premiership clash at Sixways.
Ultimately, Toby Flood’s 70th-minute penalty decided a game in which the lead changed seven times, however, the heart and commitment shown by every single Worcester man will give supporters hope as the season goes on.
The bare facts will show the Sixways side have now lost 17 consecutive league games stretching back into last season, but this performance could be the spark to build a remarkable survival bid upon.
The losing bonus point was arguably less than Worcester deserved for their efforts, with talismanic full-back Chris Pennell once again absolutely superb.
He was well supported by the likes of James Percival, Jonathan Thomas, Mike Williams and Agustin Creevy, who all caught the eye with their industrious efforts for the cause.
After last weekend’s dismal showing against Exeter in the LV= Cup, Warriors came out determined to give a better display.
However, they made a disastrous start with fly-half Paul Warwick seeing his pass picked off for an intercept-try with just four minutes on the clock.
The Aussie-born number 10 looked to move play wide on half-way, but Tigers’ left winger Niki Goneva was alert and snaffled the pass to coast over for the opening score, which Toby Flood improved.
Despite the early setback , Pennell punished the visitors by slotting four superbly-struck penalties to keep Warriors in touch after Goneva went over for his second score.
Pennell opened his account when Tigers were guilty of not rolling away and soon added three more points with a fine long-range effort.
The fired-up Warriors then moved into a surprise lead when Pennell dispatched a kick from half-way after a line-out infringement by the visitors.
Although Worcester led, Tigers looked dangerous every time they put the ball wide and their line-out was impenetrable.
That said, Warriors should have done more to prevent the second try as quick ball off the top of a line-out saw Flood fire wide to Blaine Scully, whose outside arc set up Goneva for his second. Flood added the kick to give his side a 14-9 lead.
Pennell slotted a simple kick when Tigers went off-side again, which led to referee Andrew Small having a word with captain Flood about his side’s persistent offending.
Tigers began to turn the tide, though, cranking up pressure and forcing Warriors into multiple offences, which resulted in Flood adding three more points from in front of the posts.
Warriors had chances to add to their tally as the half drew to a close, including Pennell hitting an upright with his fifth penalty attempt, but Leicester were able to keep their noses in front.
Flood shanked an early second-half penalty wide, before Warriors finally got over the try line after a great passage of play.
Superb ball retention in the build-up allowed Jonny Arr to go wide, Warwick found Ravai Fatiaki and then Pennell moved it to Josh Drauniniu, who stepped inside and slid over. From the right-hand touchline, Pennell slotted a fine conversion.
Worcester’s lead was short-lived, though, as Flood found his range with a penalty from the restart, but Pennell once again landed a kick to continue the see-saw nature of the game.
However, it was not to be as Flood had the final say and Tigers ground out a win to break Worcester hearts.
In stark contrast to the Exeter game the week before, Worcester fans streamed out of Sixways with renewed confidence ahead of what will be an emotionally-draining end to the campaign.