On the hour in this windswept corner of Worcestershire, Bath conceded their third try of the afternoon, and with it the lead. A crisis? Not quite.
Gloucester and Leicester both lost here last month, put to the sword by Mike Ruddock's battling Warriors. But Bath are made of impressively stern stuff. With 12 minutes of an absorbing contest remaining, Steve Meehan's men hit back with what proved to be the decisive blow, Andrew Higgins breaking down the right wing and slipping a pass for Tom Cheeseman, the Welsh outside- centre, to complete a hat-trick. Olly Barkley's touchline conversion gave the visitors a three-point cushion but they had to mount a rearguard action to preserve it and to keep snapping at the heels of Gloucester in the race for the play-offs.
With a home game against Saracens to come, Bath are set fair for a ding-dong of a last-day fixture at Kingsholm. The mettlethey summoned here yesterday can only bode well for their venture into the Cherry and Whites' den. They were made to dig by Worcester, whose boy-wonder wing Miles Benjamin, a month short of his 20th birthday, scored two tries.
The Warriors are now officially safe from relegation, courtesy of Leeds' defeat at Gloucester yesterday, and on this evidence, with a home semi-final against Newcastle on Friday night, they could well get the chance of revenge against Bath in the final of the European Challenge Cup. Not that Ruddock, their director of rugby, had such thoughts in mind. "I grew up watching his dad play for Swansea," the former Wales head coach said of Bath's hat-trick hero, the son of Trevor Cheeseman, who packed down in the back row for Swansea and England B in the 1970s.
Cheeseman Jnr, a former Wales Under-21, scored his first try after eight minutes of relentless Bath attack, looping round his full-back, Joe Maddock, before diving over in the right corner. Barkley's conversion miss in the swirling wind was a relief for Worcester, and they proceeded to take the breeze out of Bath's sails, temporarily at least.
First Shane Drahm, their Australian outside-half, kicked a penalty from 40 yards. Then the Warriors ran in a try from fully 90, Marcel Garvey stealing possession in the right corner and feeding Rico Gear, who shipped the ball on for Benjamin, a former West Midlands Schools sprinter, to race over on the left.
Not that Bath were deflated for very long, a charge by the flanker Michael Lipman paving the way for Cheeseman's second score, in the left corner. Barkley penalties either side of half-time stretched the lead to 16-8 before Benjamin struck again, in the 45th minute.
The England Under-20 took a feed from Tom Wood – a replacement for the injured Worcester captain, Pat Sanderson – and rode a succession of tackles before dotting down in the left-hand corner, cutting Bath's lead to 16-13.
Drahm failed to add the extras, but he made no mistake when he was presented with his next kicking opportunity. That came on the hour after the Worcester outside-half took advantage of a hesitant defence, collecting his own chip to score under the posts. Worcester were ahead for the first time, 20-16, but Bath's final score was still to come. It was a hat-trick for Cheeseman and hard cheese for Worcester.
Worcester: T Delport (C Pennell, 75); M Garvey, R Gear, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; S Drahm, M Powell (J Arr, 70); T Windo (M Mullan, 40), A Lutui, T Taumoepeau, G Rawlinson, C Gillies (W Bowley, 79), D Hickey, P Sanderson (capt; T Wood, 17-28; 35), K Horstmann.
Bath: J Maddock (M Stephenson, 43; S Berne, 70); A Higgins, T Cheeseman, O Barkley, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens; M Stevens, L Mears (P Dixon, 73), D Bell (D Barnes, 40), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, C Goodman, M Lipman, D Browne.
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