In Dean Ryan’s time as No 8, chief enforcer and captain of the Newcastle Falcons team that Rob Andrew built, with the help of Sir John Hall’s largesse, he was obliged to sit out the crowning glory of the Premiership title clincher at The Stoop, having been concussed in the penultimate match of that 1997-98 campaign. Back on Tyneside on Sunday, the former Army corporal had the luxury of a clear head to savour a battling victory at the expense of his old club.
Defeat would effectively have sealed the fate of his Worcester Warriors at the foot of the Premiership. Instead, Ryan’s men threw themselves a lifeline in the relegation zone.
A try by winger Josh Drauniniu nine minutes from the end of an otherwise forgettable contest between two fear-ridden sides earned the Warriors their first league win of the season – their first in the top flight in 23 matches, since a home success against Wasps on 1 March last year, and their first on the road since a New Year’s Day win away to Wasps at the dawn of 2012.
The gap between themselves and their hosts has been cut from 12 points to nine. With four games remaining – Exeter (home), Bath (away), Saracens (away) and Gloucester (home) – they have a maximum of 20 points to play for and the glimmer of a chance of beating the drop.
Asked whether his side could defy the odds – which remain stacked against them – Ryan insisted: “Of course we can. We always knew we had to win this game. We’ve got to win again, get a bonus point somewhere, and take it to the last weekend of the season. A lot of things go weird on the last weekend of the season.
“This gives us life. It would have been a shitty old season if we’d just stumbled through. This group don’t want to do that. They want to fight.”
They had to fight from behind on Sunday after Phil Godman gave the Falcons the lead with a third-minute penalty. The former Scotland fly-half landed two more three-pointers before half-time as the contest descended into a kick fest, with both sides reluctant to take risks and placing the emphasis on defence.
Worcester should have been in front at the interval but, after landing two penalties from long range, their full-back Chris Pennell pushed a third attempt wide and then fly-half Ryan Lamb stepped up to smack one against the right post from sitter range.
Newcastle led 9-6 at the break but Dean Richards’ side were undermined by nerves throughout. They did show promise of sparking into attacking life when George McGuigan, on his 21st birthday, replaced Scott Lawson at hooker and proceeded to punch holes in the opposition with his purposeful running in the loose.
Joel Hodgson also injected some verve after emerging from bench duty to replace Godman but the fledgling fly-half was caught short in defence when Worcester launched an attack on the home 22-metre line with nine minutes left on the clock. Taking a feed from Lamb, replacement centre Andy Symons ghosted past Hodgson with a break on the left before feeding Drauniniu for the vital score in the corner.
Lamb shanked his conversion attempt but it mattered little. After their close calls against Leicester, Harlequins and Wasps, Worcester finally had a win on the Premiership board.
“We’ve got some tough opposition but let’s see what a win does to us,” Ryan said.
The other part of the equation is what the defeat might do for Newcastle. “It might just give us a kick up the bum,” said Richards, their director of rugby, seeking the one possible consolation other than the losing bonus point.
Newcastle: Penalties Godman 4.
Worcester: Try Drauniniu; Penalties Pennell 2, Godman 2.
Newcastle A Tait (J Fitzpatrick, 45); T Catterick, G Tiesi (capt), D Barnes, S Sinoti; P Godman (J Hodgson, 63), W Fury (C Pilgrim, 20-31); R Vickers, S Lawson (G McGuigan, h-t), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 74), S MacLeod, F McKenzie, M Wilson (M Mayhew, 72), A Saull, C York.
Worcester C Pennell; J Drauniniu, A Grove (A Symons, 65), R Fatiaki, M Stelling; R Lamb (I Mieres, 78), J Arr; O Fainga’anuku (J Schuster, 49), A Creevy (E Shervington, 49), R O’Donnell, J Percival, M Galarza, M Williams (S Taulava, 55), S Betty (R de Carpentier, 72), J Thomas (capt).
Referee T Wigglesworth (Humberside).