WORCESTER can stun the rugby world by retaining their Premiership status.

The Sixways club, who were most pundits' tips to make a swift return to National One after their promotion, have already exceeded expectations with their 11th place in the table.

At the half-way stage of the season, things are looking up for the Warriors as they go into a critical period for all the clubs at the wrong end of the table.

Northampton Saints, bottom of the pile after a dreadful run of nine consecutive Premiership defeats, have a tough old run-in, culminating in a final-day trip to Sixways. By then, however, it could be all over.

Worcester may struggle at Welford Road on Monday but welcome London Irish to Sixways on New Year's Day for an eminently winnable fixture.

They are more than capable of rolling over Leeds, Saracens and Saints at Sixways while they also play a weakened Sale side during the crucial month of February.

Worcester take on Leeds, Harlequins and Sale during that month while Saints tackle Saracens, Wasps and Leicester Tigers.

The key for the Sixways club will be their home form. With most games likely to be sold out, the hope inside the club is that supporters can replicate the Wasps atmosphere which played a part in that November victory.

Away from Sixways, Worcester will be hopeful of completing the double over Quins at The Stoop in February.

Leeds will be glad they already have 20 points in the bag as they face a tough run-in. With their poor home record, you wouldn't expect them to overcome Newcastle, London Irish or Leicester Tigers although I believe they'll beat Saracens at Headingley.

For a resurgent Quins, the drop looks unlikely and, like Saracens, I expect them to finish comfortably above the trap door.

It looks like a three-way battle to stay afloat this season but Leeds may just have the advantage because they are already three points ahead of Worcester and six in front of the Saints.

If results don't go as expected, however, it could come down to that April 30 showdown at Sixways.

Worcester, though, have the chance to carve out their destiny well before that and I expect them to beat the drop this season.

Of course, we're still not sure whether there will be promotion from National One but with Bristol looking good at present (a club who satisfy entry criteria), Worcester won't want to leave their fate to chance.

Final points tally:

Harlequins 42

Saracens 42

Worcester 38

Leeds Tykes 38

Northampton 30