The air of desperation hanging over Sixways was almost palpable. Even this early in the season it is hard to believe that these two clubs will not be involved in a relegation struggle come April, but Newcastle Falcons, in recording their second win of the Aviva Premiership, have the stronger foundation.
Having scored 13 points in almost as many minutes, they could hardly be accused of sitting on their lead because they did not have the ball to sit on; for an hour or more they tackled their hearts out and Worcester, hurried and flurried, could break them only once.
True, they could have pinched the verdict in the dying moments. David Lemi, who scored their try by crawling under his forwards to the line, was brought down six metres short and Worcester forced a scrum in the shadow of the posts. Yet that scrum was a mess, possession shoddy and Newcastle held firm, forcing the turnover which allowed them to close matters out.
Worcester will argue that any point is better than none but they have now lost 10 matches in succession, their worst run in the professional era, and defeat yesterday gave Newcastle their first success at Sixways since 2004 – Worcester’s first game after winning promotion to the premiership for the first time in their history.
Dean Ryan, their director of rugby, has never been one to soft-soap such a scenario: “We can’t buy a win at the moment,” he said. “We have to get better at managing the things we can control, we haven’t got a group that is confident week in, week out. Last week [against London Wasps] we ran too much, this week we kicked too much – with the sort of possession we had, we should have generated more scores.”
Kicked too much and kicked poorly. In the first half, in particular, it almost suited Newcastle better to be without the ball because they could rely on Worcester giving it to them in reasonable counter-attacking positions. If the Falcons do not play pretty rugby, no-one should expect them to: shorn of eight injured players, they are interested only in winning games with a young group, many graduates from the club academy.
One of their older heads, Mike Blair, helped them on the road to victory when he squeezed beneath a pile of bodies for the try which, with Rory Clegg adding a conversion to his earlier penalty, gave Newcastle 10 points in the opening eight minutes..
Clegg added another penalty when the Worcester front row was at fault and though Ignacio Mieres clawed back three points, Worcester could make no headway even against 14 men. Oliver Tomaszczyk was dispatched to the sin-bin for slowing down ruck ball and Will Welch, the Newcastle captain, did not re-appear after the interval because of shoulder damage.
However, Mieres kicked another penalty as Tomaszczyk returned and, with 12 minutes remaining, gave themselves a sniff of victory when a series of drives ended with Lemi joining his forwards and making the touchdown. But Paul Warwick could not level with the angled conversion and Newcastle promptly marched back downfield, helped by a barnstorming run from Chris York, Welch’s replacement; Phil Godman kicked an easy penalty and Newcastle left in good heart.
“When I came back up [to the premiership] with Harlequins, we lost our first six games and everyone was talking about relegation,” Dean Richards, their director of rugby, said. “You have to have patience.” His two wins have come away from home; now he has to make Kingston Park inhospitable.
Worcester: C Pennell; J Drauniniu, R Fatiaki (A Grove, 18), J Matavesi, D Lemi; I Mieres (P Warwick, 52), P Hodgson J Su’a, 47); J Becasseau (G Porter, 54), E Shervington (C Brooker, 54), E Murray (J Andress, 66), M Williams, C Jones, J Thomas (captain), J Abbott, S Taulava (C Goodhue, 48).
Newcastle: A Tait; N Cato, A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, T Catterick; R Clegg (P Godman, 75), M Blair (W Fury, 75); R Vickers (F Montanella, 48-71), M Thompson (G McGuigan, 48), O Tomaszczyk (sin bin 35-45; S Wilson, 66), C del Fava (S Tomes, 75), D Barrow, M Wilson, W Welch (captain; Wilson, 35-45; C York, 45), A Hogg.
Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).