Auch pile pain on to weakened Worcester

Auch 3 Worcester 10 Half-time: 20-3 Attendance: 1,800
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At the risk of upsetting several hundred Worcester supporters, and their few dozen counterparts up from the south of France, it is fair to say this was not the most eagerly awaited cup final yesterday. It wasn't even the most prominent fixture in Oxford.

At the risk of upsetting several hundred Worcester supporters, and their few dozen counterparts up from the south of France, it is fair to say this was not the most eagerly awaited cup final yesterday. It wasn't even the most prominent fixture in Oxford.

In a one-sided affair, first-quarter tries by Raphael Bastide and Grégory Patat won the Shield for Auch, as a minor consolation for their impending relegation from the French first division.

Worcester's principal achievement for the season - survival in the Premiership - was secured three weeks ago. This coming of age might have been apt in the 21st final in 10 years of formal European competition, but victory was far beyond a mixed line-up of first and second choices.

Worcester's request to register Neil Lyman, the tighthead prop who is retiring this summer, was denied by European Rugby Cup Ltd: a case of common sense playing second fiddle to rules and regulations. The Worcester coach, Andy Keast, admitted beforehand that with Steve Sparks not fully fit and back-up resources running low, uncontested scrums were almost inevitable.

Sure enough, Worcester back-pedalled horribly on their put-in at a 14th minute scrum, and Patat rumbled over on the shortside. Five minutes before half-time the French took pity, going for goal after a five-metre scrum collapsed rather than re-setting it.

Jonny Hylton had a couple of runs on the wing which raised the pulse rate. Otherwise Auch were in charge from the second minute when a long-range counter-attack led to a try for Bastide, a Spanish international. Two conversions and a couple of penalties by the full-back Jean-Baptiste Dambielle, punctuated by a penalty from Tommy Hayes, had Auch up 20-3 at half-time.

You had to admire the Auch lock, Tau Tapasu, who could not have put in more effort if the vote on the European constitution and Eurovision song contest were at stake on the outcome. Conversely, at loosehead prop for Worcester, Tony Windo could rarely have had a more uncomfortable afternoon in all his 36 years. Hardly a scrum was completed satisfactorily, and Dambielle kicked another penalty in the 60th minute.

Sparks gave up the unequal fight soon after. And when Worcester sent on a hooker, Chris Hall, as their only available front-rower it meant an end to pushing in the scrum for the fifth or sixth time this season in a top club match. Rugby's authorities need to consider urgently both the Law and the competition regulations - deprived of the contest the game is not far off rugby league.

Worcester worked their captain for the day, Daren O'Leary, over for a try in the 73rd minute, and Hayes converted. Still, the final whistle was a relief and while Auch collected the silver platter, Windo led the rush for the bath salts.

Auch: J-B Dambielle; J Kinane, J Sarraute (A Lagardère, 47), N Pagotto, R Bastide; Y Lafforgue, T Lacourt (B Salobert, 62); Y Marty (J Hooper, 40), N Sentous (S Bortolucci, 40), N Descamps (G Menkarska, 40), T Tapasu (H Arif, 73), N Lafitte, S St Lary, G Patat (G Bortolaso, 69), M Lebel (capt).

Worcester: D O'Leary (capt); P Sampson (D Roke, 61), G Trueman (J Brown, 52), T Lombard, J Hylton (T Delport, 52); T Hayes, M Powell (C Stuart-Smith, 61); T Windo, B Daly, S Sparks (C Hall, 61), P Murphy, C Gillies, S Vaili, B Macleod-Henderson, N Mason.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy).

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