FULL-BACK Chris Pennell believes Worcester Warriors have the big-game players to handle the pressure of tonight’s Aviva Premiership crunch clash with London Irish (7.45pm).

Warriors are six points clear of bottom club Irish and will be desperate to increase the gap with a victory at a packed-out Sixways.

With the Exiles also determined to boost their own survival hopes, Pennell refused to hide away from the enormity of the fixture for both teams.

But having been in this situation on numerous occasions, including last season’s battles with relegation rivals Bristol, the long-serving full-back is confident Warriors will come out on top again.

“You try to approach every game in the same way but we all know what is on the line here so there has been a slightly different atmosphere this week,” the 30-year-old said.

“It makes it more exciting for a lot of us and having those nerves around is not a bad thing.

“You could liken it to the Bristol game last season.

“We know Irish are going to come here and put it to us so physically we need to be above where we have been at any stage this season.

“We have to dominate the collision and if we can set the tone in that first 20 minutes then we can potentially see a repeat of what we did against Bristol.”

Vastly-experienced lock Donncha O’Callaghan returns to skipper the side while scrum-half Francois Hougaard and tighthead prop Nick Schonert have overcome knocks to start.

"We have got experienced guys who have been there and done it," Pennell continued.

"They been here in high-pressure situations and know how to handle themselves.

"We have also got a group of quality youngsters who I don’t think will find the occasion overwhelming.

"We are looking forward to it and the feeling I am getting is the guys are genuinely excited as opposed to being terrified."

Since beating Harlequins at Twickenham on the opening day of the season, Irish have suffered nine straight defeats.

But Pennell insists Warriors cannot afford to take Nick Kennedy’s men lightly as they ran both Bath and Wasps close.

“They have been in pretty much every game this season,” Pennell said.

“We have been in their position before and scrapped our way out of it.

“They will be looking at us thinking ‘We have got a great opportunity to go and turn them over at Sixways'.

“Irish will look at the areas of our game they feel they can exploit and without a doubt will believe they are the better side.

“We won’t be underestimating them and hopefully by the end of play we will be in a much better position.”

Pennell added: “We are looking forward to the challenge.

“This is what we deem as a big game so it makes it really exciting.

“But we have got to focus on getting the job done.

“It is another opportunity to put ourselves in a position to start looking at the teams ahead of us.

“If we are in that fortunate place we will have a much better Christmas.”