Challenge Cup: Worcester on pole as Hickey provides a taste of success

Worcester 30 Connacht 20
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The Independent Online

Worcester could be commended to any one looking for a favourite second club, with their superb facilities, the romanticism of their rise from regional rugby to the top flight, and the success of a bric-a-brac team playing like the shop window of Harrods. That sentiment, however, did not extend to the French referee, who did not find this upwardly mobile part of the West Midlands at all to his liking.

In the end - the second minute of added time to be precise - Drew Hickey's try converted by Shane Drahm gave Worcester a worthwhile cushion for next weekend's return fixture in Galway, which is more or less certain to decide who qualifies from Pool Five.

Worcester will wonder how Connacht got away with dragging down mauls and killing rucks with not a sight of a yellow card until 68 minutes had passed and the lock Christian Short was banished. By contrast Worcester's captain, Pat Sanderson - back from England duty to rejoin a team who had risen to fourth in the Premiership in his absence - was whisked off to the sin bin in the 18th minute for impeding Chris Keane after the Connacht scrum-half after a tapped penalty.

"We could sum that [refereeing] up in two words," said Worcester's director of rugby, John Brain. "Typically French." While the press sighed with relief that they would not be resorting to asterisks, Brain hailed a game plan which had the twin aims of securing four tries for Worcester and denying Connacht a losing bonus point. They fell just short of the first target, although Nicolas le Roux took a lovely pass out of the tackle by Thomas Lombard to score in the 13th minute, and Shane Drahm dummied his way over six minutes before half-time. A bold attacking move for Hickey's try achieved the second requirement. Brain said: "We're in pole position in the pool now and we don't intend to give that up."

Connacht tackled mightily in the centres. David Slemen, once of Harlequins, kicked a penalty and converted a try by the centre Keith Matthews, both during Sanderson's 10-minute absence, for Connacht to lead 10-7.

Drahm landed three second-half penalties and Slemen kicked one for Connacht and converted a try by Matt Mostyn. At one stage the score reached 20-20, and if the officials' vision was not to Worcester's taste, the artistry of Craig Gillies in the line-out certainly was. Either through a high league finish or by winning this competition, it could yet be seen in the Heineken Cup next year. Heady days at Sixways.

Worcester Warriors: N le Roux; U Uduoza, T Lombard, S Whatling, T Delport; S Drahm, M Powell; T Windo, C Fortey, C Horsman (L Fortey, 58), P Murphy (E O'Donoghue, 56), C Gillies, K Horstmann (J Tuamoheloa, 70), D Hickey, P Sanderson (capt).

Connacht: M Mostyn; T Robinson, J Hearty, K Matthews, C McPhillips; D Slemen, C Keane; R Hogan, J Fogarty, S Knoop, C Short (A Gallagher, 78), A Farley (capt), J Muldoon, C Rigney (M Swift, 65) M Lacey.

Referee: J-P Matheu (France).