Drahm's day of exquisite agony

Worcester 21 - Northampton 19
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The Independent Online

This was a dramatic finish that culminated in cheers, fears then more cheers as both sets of supporters went wild with delight. First it was Worcester's players, management and fans who cavorted all over the pitch, following a thrilling victory which secured their place in the Premiership next season.

This was a dramatic finish that culminated in cheers, fears then more cheers as both sets of supporters went wild with delight. First it was Worcester's players, management and fans who cavorted all over the pitch, following a thrilling victory which secured their place in the Premiership next season.

Then it was Northampton's turn. Defeat had left them in limbo - they were dependent on Harlequins losing at home to Sale. Over the next 20 seconds, the anxious Saints supporters' faces ran through disbelief, relief and finally delight as news of Quins' defeat filtered through.

Worcester now have a chance of gaining a place in the Heineken Cup, if they can beat Saracens in the wildcard play-off on Friday and then win the final against Gloucester or Newcastle.

Northampton also had a cause for a double celebration, with their owner Keith Barwell announcing, once news of his side's survival had been confirmed, that Carlos Spencer, the New Zealand fly-half, was now "99 per cent certain" of coming to Franklin's Gardens next season.

Worcester had to sweat for victory, and the season is still not over for them. John Brain, their director of rugby, said: "There will be a bit of celebrating now, but on Monday the players will be back, preparing for Friday."

There had been a carnival atmosphere at Sixways hours before hostilities began, fans of both teams having arrived early to soak up the sunshine and the atmosphere. When things eventually got under way Worcester's new signing Shane Drahm (yesterday still a Northampton player and a predictable starter, having been named on the bench the day before) did nothing to endear himself to his future fan-base by kicking goals from everywhere.

Afterwards, though, Drahm shrugged it all off . "I had made the decision to come to Worcester next season and I knew something like this was always possible and I knew I would have to deal with it," he said. And deal with it he did, knocking over three penalties in total and converting Paul Diggin's 24th-minute try, which had arisen from a Worcester turnover.

Worcester had scored a try of their own following an intense period of pressure close to the Saints' line, the scrum-half Matt Powell handing-off his opposite number, Billy Fulton, and dummying before ducking inside Drahm.

Northampton looked more dangerous as the phases built up and opportunities for Worcester were severely limited. It took a bit of daylight robbery to swing things back their way. Powell relieved Darren Fox of the ball when the Saints flanker was pinned to the ground, and raced up the left-hand touchline. The move finally broke down in the Saints 22, but as the ball emerged from the ruck Dale Rasmussen scooped it up, cut a perfect angle through the cover and touched down under the posts. Brown's second conversion nosed the Warriors into a slender lead.

Drahm's third penalty wiped that out so Worcester threw everything they had at Northampton. Fortunately one of those objects was Drew Hickey, who touched down for a dramatic 75th-minute try after the prop Tony Windo popped up a great pass. The No 8 steamed through the gap, flinging himself over the line with desperate Saints clinging to him.

Drahm had just been replaced by Paul Grayson, who hit back for Saints after Tommy Hayes had converted, landing a 40-metre penalty which reduced the lead to two points and racked up the tension to the last second. And then the partying began.

Worcester: T Delport; G Pieters, D Rasmussen, T Lombard, B Hinshelwood; J Brown (T Hayes, 65), M Powell; T Windo, A van Niekerk (B Daly, 69), N Lyman, P Murphy, C Gillies, S Vaili (N Mason, 65), P Sanderson (capt), D Hickey.

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd, B Cohen, M Stcherbina, P Diggin; S Drahm (P Grayson, 75), B Fulton; T Smith, S Thompson (capt; D Richmond, 75), B Sturgess (S Emms, 69), S Boome (D Browne, 14), M Lord, D Fox (M Soden, 72), C Krige, A Blowers.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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