Northampton required a late try from Paul Diggin to prevent Franklin's Gardens looking like a bouncy castle rather than a fortress. Worcester were within three minutes of becoming only the second side to beat Northampton at home in two-and-a-half years until Diggins capitalised on an overlap created by the sin-binning of Willie Walker to snatch a jittery win for the Saints.
Walker missed the final seven minutes after Chris White penalised him for a second offence in quick succession at the tackle area, a decision that left Worcester a man down and ill-equipped to withstand Northampton's late onslaught.
"It was a big call, a yellow card in the last five or seven minutes," said Mike Ruddock, Worcester's director of rugby. "In fairness to Northampton they were in the ascendancy and pressing hard, but we were holding them out, our defence had been rock solid pretty much throughout the game so losing Willie was a crucial moment."
Shane Geraghty made the most of Northampton's numerical advantage and capped an outstanding debut with a diagonal run that stretched Worcester's defence and gave Diggin, who came off his wing, space to dart over for the winning try.
Geraghty, a summer recruit from London Irish, demonstrated his versatility, switching from centre to fly-half after Stephen Myler hobbled off with a sprained ankle. Not only did Geraghty kick his goals – two penalties in three minutes and a long range conversion of Diggin's try – but he imposed himself on the game in a way Walker failed to.
Worcester were outstanding in defence, regularly smuggling Northampton possession at the breakdown, but limited in attack, a recurring theme for a side that had twice finished in the bottom two in the previous three seasons.
An interception try, well-taken by Miles Benjamin after rookie centre Greg King had collected a weak chip from Myler, was followed by a close range effort from Kai Horstmann.
But Worcester allowed Northampton to gnaw away at their 17-point lead despite an outstanding all-round performance from flanker Tom Wood. "Perhaps we should start using Tom for conversions because he did everything else today," Ruddock said.
A debut try from former Newcastle flanker Phil Dowson, which was referred to the television match official, began Northampton's fightback but there were plenty of moments of uncertainty before Diggin clinched victory.
"It was a nervous performance and there are still all manner of areas that we can work on," said Northampton's director of rugby Jim Mallinder.
Northampton: Tries: Dowson, Diggin. Cons: Myler, Geraghty. Pens: Geraghty 2. Worcester: Tries: Benjamin, Horstmann. Cons: Walker. Pens: Walker.
Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin, J Clarke, S Geraghty, B Reihana; S Myler (J Downey 52); L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), S Bonorino (R Dreyer 31), C Lawes (I Fernandez Lobbe 67), J Kruger, P Dowson, N Best (S Gray 61), R Wilson.
Worcester: C Latham; M Garvey, A Grove, G King, M Benjamin; W Walker, R Powell; M Mullan (A Black 63), A Lutui (C Fortey 79), O Sourgens (T Taumoepeau 12), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (G Kitchener 61), T Wood, P Sanderson (capt), K Horstmann.
Referee: C White (Cheltenham)Reuse content