DOWN, but not out; gone, but not forgotten – a bumper crowd had Sixways rocking as Warriors signed off as an Aviva Premiership team with a morale-boosting derby day victory over near neighbours Gloucester.
While it was nice for Worcester’s beleaguered fans to be able to hold the bragging rights over the Cherry ‘n’ Whites, the most impressive thing for me was the atmosphere inside the stadium and the genuine affection the Warriors fans displayed for their battered heroes.
There have been some dark moments for supporters of Worcester Warriors this term – none more so than when relegation to the Championship was confirmed with defeat at Saracens two weekends ago.
However, there was a genuinely positive and upbeat mood inside Sixways on Saturday from well before kick-off and on into the evening as the last pints of the season were supped.
Encouragingly, despite Warriors conceding three early tries, the home faithful never once turned on the men in Gold ‘n’ Blue, but continued to offer wholehearted encouragement, which was rewarded with a gratifying come-from-behind derby victory.
As Dean Ryan joked after the game, at least Warriors fans will have the bragging rights over their Gloucester-supporting mates for at least two years now!
The club held a supporters’ evening at Sixways on Thursday night to unveil their grand plans of how Worcester will bounce back from relegation. It is difficult not to be impressed by the passion, commitment and determination of everyone involved.
Both Ryan and Nick Johnston spoke in depth about what has been done wrong at Worcester in the past and what is now being put in place to ensure those mistakes never happen again.
A new academy system, based around six regional centres all feeding into the Sixways hub, has been launched and the Warriors hierarchy have committed serious funding to set the project up.
The aim is that all talented youngsters from as far afield as Shropshire, Herefordshire and Warwickshire will not just be funnelled into the Worcester system, but nurtured and developed as both a player and a person.
Once a youngster has Warriors in his veins, it can only bode well for helping to create the much-vaunted culture that will be central to any success the club may enjoy further down the line.
Over the years, many people in charge at Worcester have spoken about the huge potential at Warriors and how the club would be challenging for a top-six place.
Unfortunately, this was merely a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes as this perception did not extend outside the walls of Sixways.
Although it will no doubt be a long and winding round back to the Premiership – let alone to challenging for honours at the top end of it – at least the right building blocks have now been put in place to make it possible.
The ‘best practice’ model Warriors are working towards is that of Harlequins, who can afford to employ the likes of Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown, Nick Easter and Nick Evans because of a robust academy system.
Of the current Quins squad, the vast majority are homegrown and, more importantly, England-qualified.
When Worcester have their house in order in this respect, the central funding will flow, the squad will improve and, maybe then, Warriors can perform as well as Harlequins, rather than simply looking up to them as a model of how things should be done.