THE one question that lingered longest in the minds of everyone connected with Worcester Warriors after this performance of great heart and no little skill was ‘why is Chris Pennell still not playing international rugby?’.
An inspirational performer for his club every time he takes to the field, the 26-year-old has arguably been the best player in the Aviva Premiership this term, let alone the best full-back.
The former Worcester captain has stood tall as a beacon of hope amid a sea of mediocrity as Warriors have lurched from one disaster to the next.
Despite that, Sixways remains an unfashionable place to ply your trade as far as the England selectors are concerned.
Noises to the contrary always emanate from the Twickenham corridors of power, but it is undeniable – just look at the talent drain out of Worcester over the years.
The likes of Tom Wood, Graham Kitchener, Matt Mullan and Matt Kvesic have all been not-too-subtly made aware that they need to move to pastures new if they hope to fulfil their international ambitions.
That won’t wash with Pennell, though. A local lad at the heart of the Worcester community, he was happy to commit his future to his hometown club, regardless of his own England hopes, at a time when their top-flight status looks doomed to finish at the end of this term.
That decision alone says as much about Pennell the man as his imperious performances this term have said about Pennell the player.
Loyal, dedicated, committed to the cause and a superb player – Pennell is exactly the type of character Ryan needs to have at the heart of his Warriors revolution.
And, if the squad Ryan puts together can embody Pennell’s myriad qualities, then there is no doubt this club will soon be moving in the right direction – and fast.
If Pennell was playing for pretty much any other side in the league – barring perhaps Newcastle and London Irish – he would have been pulling on a Red Rose jersey by now.
The fact he is not even in the Saxons set-up is laughable in itself because, if Stuart Lancaster’s two Elite Player Squads (EPS) were picked on form rather than reputation, Pennell would be in the senior side, let alone the second string.
Lancaster’s current England incumbents at number 15 – Mike Brown and Alex Goode – are rightly there on merit and Pennell is behind them in the pecking order. After that, however, he is at least as good as any of the other full-backs in the league.
Ryan’s side’s problems this season have stemmed from the fact that all too often Pennell has been the only player performing to an acceptable level.
Yet, under the Friday night lights at Sixways, Warriors – to a man – raised their game, fronted up to the challenge and deserved to have been celebrating victory at the 13th time of asking.
Although the one point gleaned for their efforts against the reigning Premiership champions won’t be a massive help in their bid to claw down the 11th placed team in the table, it was a real shot in the arm for the beleaguered set of players.