Pitch perfect for battling Leeds as Worcester are relegated

Leeds 12 Worcester 10
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Worcester were complaining bitterly about the dimensions of the Headingley pitch long before kick-off and it was certainly true that these particular Yorkshire acres were not as broad as they might have been, but their protests would have carried more weight had they travelled north with an attacking game worthy of the name. They could have played this make-or-break fixture on a playing surface the size of Canada and still not scored the points they needed to extend their six-year run in the Guinness Premiership. They are relegated, with a match to spare.

If they claimed the only try of the contest, it said more about their hosts' approach – utterly committed to their own must-win cause but largely lacking in ambition – than it did of their own ability to trip the light fantastic. Worcester may have had dark thoughts about the three metres shaved off each side of the field, but the overriding impression left by their work yesterday was not of a team frustrated at the stealing of precious space by the local groundsman but of a band of agoraphobics petrified of exposure to the open air.

Behind to a flurry of penalties from the Leeds outside-half Ceiron Thomas, who hit the spot four times in the opening 25 minutes, the Midlanders finally gave themselves some purchase on proceedings when Willie Walker kicked a three-pointer deep in the second quarter. It was that kind of match: pinched, fractured, error-ridden, spiked with indiscipline. Another score for the home side before the break would have done for Worcester and it might easily have come about had Adam Black not won a scrummager's victory over Juan Gomez on the stroke of half-time.

So it was that the visitors were left with 40 minutes to save their collective skin. Their line-out, comprehensively ransacked by the outstanding Marco Wentzel throughout the opening period, continued in its sorry state, and it was this, together with Walker's expensive failures of marksmanship on the resumption, that allowed Leeds to run down the clock. If Wentzel and company were far from threatening with ball in hand, neither were they under threat themselves. Until, clean out of the wide blue yonder, it happened.

Seven minutes from the end of normal time, Worcester's southern hemisphere imports finally made some sense of it all, Netani Talei setting sail in open field and making a filthy great dent in the Leeds defence. Sam Tuitupou, the centre from New Zealand, materialised on the Fijian No 8's shoulder to continue the attack and when Matthew Jones, on for the ineffective Walker, hung a high ball towards the left touchline, the bounce made a monkey of the covering Lee Blackett and presented Alex Grove with a simple run to the line. Jones duly converted, and the 10,000-plus crowd – the biggest of the season at Headingley – had a two-point ballgame on their hands. Yet if truth be told, Worcester did not possess the weaponry or the navigational skills to capitalise on their opponents' discomfort.

They did not have the composure, either. Jones tried his luck with a 55-metre penalty and missed by miles when he might have punted his side to within 10 metres of the Leeds line. Then, when the home full-back Jon Goodridge made the schoolboy error of kicking out on the full to hand Worcester an attacking line-out, a terminal lack of patience resulted in Jones attempting an early 40-metre drop goal rather than biding his time and allowing his forwards to establish a more promising position. Predictably, he was charged down by three defenders who delighted in denying him so much of a sip of his drink in the Last Chance Saloon.

Mike Ruddock, the Worcester boss, did not participate in his side's on-field huddle at the end, and it seems he is strictly past tense as far as Cecil Duckworth, the club's chairman and benefactor-in-chief, is concerned. Pressed on his future at Sixways, he offered nothing more than a verbal shrug. "Who knows?" said the Welshman. "I'll have a chat with the chairman and see what he thinks." According to those in the know, Duckworth is thinking of hiring Dean Ryan as his new director of rugby.

Meanwhile, the Leeds coaching hierarchy are about to hire a raft of new players who had been waiting for the club to secure their Premiership status and trouser the estimated £1m in central funding riding on a successful survival campaign. "I'm not saying who they are," remarked Neil Back, the World Cup-winning flanker whose first foray into elite coaching alongside the highly proficient Andy Key has proved an unalloyed success. "What I will say is that we can push some buttons on certain people who will help us achieve our Year Three objective of finishing in the top six of the league."

If Back, notoriously puritanical on the alcohol front, was sufficiently relieved to go in search of a drink – "Hey, you blokes: what's the best whisky?" he asked his startled audience – he was less than impressed by the way his team had performed: "That wasn't a proper representation of what we're about. It wasn't the way we wanted to win: our execution was poor and while I can understand it to an extent under the circumstances, it's not good enough." There's no pleasing some people.

nWorcester said they would be investigating the circumstances surrounding a brief fracas at the end of the game involving one of their players and a travelling supporter.

Scorers: Leeds: Penalties Thomas 4. Worcester: Try Grove; Conversion Jones; Penalty Walker.

Leeds: J Goodridge; L Blackett, L Burrell, S Rabeni, H Fa'afili; C Thomas, S Mathie; M MacDonald, A Titterrell (P Nilsen 74), J Gomez (P Swainston 60), E Lund, M Wentzel (capt), K Myall, R Oakley, A To'oala (T Denton 60).

Worcester: C Latham (capt); M Garvey, A Grove, S Tuitupou (D Rasmussen 80), C Pennell; W Walker (M Jones 57), J Arr (L Silver 44); A Black (C Black 55), A Lutui (C Fortey 67), T Taumoepeau (O Sourgens 79), G Rawlinson, G Kitchener (C Gillies 57), K Horstmann, C Cracknell (J Collins 82), N Talei.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).