Exeter Chiefs 57 Worcester Warriors 22

THE nature of this crushing Aviva Premiership defeat against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park should set the alarm bells ringing around Sixways.

Chiefs looked a class above Warriors for most of the match and exposed the visitors’ defensive frailties and set-piece problems to cut through for eight tries.

Warriors shipped 57 points for only the second time in their Premiership history and this loss will shatter any lingering hopes fans had of an improvement on last season’s 10th-placed finish.

Very few expected Warriors to pick up a first top-tier win against fifth-placed Exeter but the ease in which the hosts crossed the whitewash will be a major concern for the visitors.

There’s no denying Worcester’s lengthy injury list is eye-wincing and the quicker scrum-half Francois Hougaard returns to action after his shoulder operation the better.

But it is clear Carl Hogg’s men are firmly locked in a two-horse battle for Premiership survival with newly-promoted Bristol.

Warriors’ lead over the improving bottom club has been cut to six points and they face a must-win trip to Ashton Gate on Boxing Day.

Worcester’s margin of defeat to Exeter was fewer than the 38 points they lost by on their visit last season but the manner of Saturday’s hammering will be harder to swallow.

The hosts enjoyed a promising early couple of minutes after the kick-off and were awarded a penalty when Chris Pennell was caught high by Olly Woodburn.

But Jamie Shillcock’s penalty drifted wide of the posts and Exeter took control through their forwards.

Gareth Steenson landed a penalty either side of converting tries from Jack Yeandle and Will Chudley as a relentless Exeter roared into a 17-0 lead after just 22 minutes.

A penalty from Shillcock got Warriors on the board but a converted penalty try, coupled with a yellow card for Darren Barry for collapsing the maul, left Warriors trailing 24-3 at the break.

Worcester couldn’t get a foothold in the game as their line-out struggled and they simply couldn’t stop Exeter’s attacks.

The hosts rammed home their superiority with three converted tries in 15 minutes of the restart, Woodburn, Carl Rimmer and Thomas Waldrom all crossing, to open up a 45-3 lead.

A shell-shocked Warriors hit back with a try from Josh Adams after a delightful chip ahead from Shillcock but James Short waltzed through for Exeter’s seventh touchdown soon afterwards.

Waldrom was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on and Worcester made their numerical advantage count with a try from Wynand Olivier, which Shillcock converted.

Centre Ian Whitten broke through for Exeter’s eighth try, which Steenson converted.

Warriors had the final word with Dewald Potgieter touching down for his second try for the club after a quick break from replacement hooker Matti Williams to give the visitors a sniff of an underserved bonus point.

But it didn’t paper over the cracks and Worcester’s dismal away Premiership record continues to show just two victories on their travels since returning to the top tier.

It’s vital Warriors win their fixtures at Sixways and they will need to show much more organisation and character against high-flying Wasps next Sunday.