It is a horrible way to lose – not to mention an ugly one – but two penalty tries to nil tells its own story. Worcester, one of the Prermiership’s less celebrated sides, took Leicester, certainly the most successful, every step of the way at Sixways last night and matched them in every phase bar one.
The exception was the scrum, and when the home side found themselves under set-piece heat on their own line twice during a the second half, they crumbled both times to the tune of 14 points.
The second of them came at the last knockings, following a break out of defence by the long-lost England back Mathew Tait, now back in the thick of it after long-term injury, and a clever kick to the line by the Test No 8 Thomas Waldrom. From the close-range scrum, Leicester splintered the Worcester pack to overturn a 14-12 deficit and pinch the spoils.
Worcester tend to spend a lot of their top-flight campaigns flirting with anonymity and on occasions, their seduction technique is spectacularly successful. Last night was not a case in point, for there was something deeply characterful about much of their rugby – not least when David Lemi scored the first try of the night in the left corner following excellent work from the eye-catching Matt Kvesic, who spun out of a tackle on the drive, and the centre Jon Clarke, who made monkeys of both Croft and Ed Slater before putting Chris Pennell in a position to make the scoring pass.
Lemi, the current captain of Samoa, has been a full-value player wherever he has surfaced in the Premiership, be it at Bristol or Wasps or here in the West Midlands. His finish at the flag on 14 minutes was typically joyous and lifted Worcester as a unit. From there until the very fag-end of the half, they dominated Leicester territorially and possession-wise in a manner rarely seen at league level.
Andy Goode failed with the wide-angled conversion attempt, but he had already nailed an early penalty and kicked two more at the start of the second quarter to give the home side a rather startling 14-point lead. The fact that the referee, J P Doyle, was heavily on the case of the Leicester tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni meant life tasted even sweeter for the underdogs. The wild-haired swamp creature from the dark depths of the Italian Test pack was harshly penalised at a ruck, thereby providing Goode with a simple three points, and was then directed towards the sin-bin for bringing Semisi Taulava to earth with an admirably low but apparently illegal arm-free tackle. If Castrogiovanni was bemused by the first decision, he was utterly bewildered by the second. And it showed.
Unfortunately for Worcester, their control evaporated in first-half injury time. A poor exit from their own 22 and a line-out steal from Croft put them under unnecessary pressure and as Leicester mounted a rare meaningful attack, Mathew Tait’s brilliant intervention from full-back sent Scott Hamilton in at the right corner. By way of rubbing an ocean’s worth of salt in the home team’s wound, Goode was sent to the cooler for dropping a knee on Hamilton as he touched down – a sin that hurt Worcester a whole lot more than it did the Tigers wing.
During Goode’s period of penance, Pennell missed two highly kickable penalties at the start of the second period. Also, the momentum in Worcester’s game pretty much evaporated. It did not take Leicester long to strike after the resumption, securing a penalty try through some heavy scrummaging on their opponents’ line – a triumph for the substitute props, Marcos Ayerza and Dan Cole. The England outside-half Toby Flood, who had been more than a little subdued on his return from injury, made no mistake with the sand-wedge conversion and suddenly, it was a two-point game.
But with Kvesic still in the ascendant in the loose, even though the Leicester boss Richard Cockerill wi thdrew Croft and sent on the specialist open-side flanker Julian Salvi in an effort to cramp the Worcester man’s style, there was no real sign of a scoreboard change. Flood, who had been underclubbing his goal-kicks all night, was short again with a long-range penalty on 72 minutes, and that seemed about it until Tait sparked the very late attack that earned the visitors a five-metre scrum – and their second penalty try - at the death.
Worcester C Pennell; J Drauniniu, A Grove, J Clarke (J Matavesi 68), D Lemi; A Goode, J Arr; C Jones (M Mullan 55), A Lutui, E Murray (J Andress 68), J Percival (capt), D Schofield (C Jones 61), S Betty, M Kvesic, S Taulava (N Best 58).
Leicester M Tait; S Hamilton, M Smith, D Bowden (A Allen 64), A Thompstone (N Morris 61); T Flood, B Youngs; L Mulipola (M Ayerza 52), R Hawkins, M Castrogiovanni (D Cole 52), E Slater, L Deacon (capt), T Croft (Cole 29-30, J Salvi 51), S Mafi, T Waldrom (Salvi 1-4).
Referee J P Doyle (London)