Worcester given glimpse of class division

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The Independent Online

A politically charged Tetley's Bitter Cup occasion at Watford merely confirmed what 99 per cent of English rugby followers knew already: that political argy-bargy is best left to the political classes. The Vicarage Road crowd, up around the 9,000 mark for most Premiership matches, only just topped 5,000 for theis fifth-round match, and Worcester's travelling support accounted for at least 25 per cent of that figure. The nasty, small-minded and deeply destructive argument over promotion and relegation is now the biggest turn-off in world sport, barring synchronised swimming. And synchro happens once every four years, not once a week.

A politically charged Tetley's Bitter Cup occasion at Watford merely confirmed what 99 per cent of English rugby followers knew already: that political argy-bargy is best left to the political classes. The Vicarage Road crowd, up around the 9,000 mark for most Premiership matches, only just topped 5,000 for theis fifth-round match, and Worcester's travelling support accounted for at least 25 per cent of that figure. The nasty, small-minded and deeply destructive argument over promotion and relegation is now the biggest turn-off in world sport, barring synchronised swimming. And synchro happens once every four years, not once a week.

Saracens, the Premiership leaders, were far too good for Worcester, the National League One pace-setters and the most vociferous opponents of the Rugby Football Union-backed proposal to scrap automatic promotion to the top flight in favour of a play-off mechanism. No surprise there. Kyran Bracken's team played for precisely one quarter of the match - they stirred themselves around the 20th minute and packed it in around half-time - and, in that short time, they scored four tries and killed the tie stone dead. As both managements later acknowledged, the gulf between the top of the First Division and the top of the Second is wider than the Atlantic.

The question was this: could Worcester do enough to suggest they might strengthen the Premiership, rather than weaken it? The jury is out, and will remain so until the end of the season. They played with huge vim and vigour for a quarter of an hour or so, but their forwards were blowing air like old-fashioned kettles before the first half reached its midway point. David Fryday, their aggressive No 8, valiantly continued to take the fight to the Saracens pack but, after picking on Danny Grewcock of all people, he was rucked into the middle of next week and was still on the deck when Darragh O'Mahony crossed for the opening try in the left corner.

Tim Horan, too classy by half for the Worcester midfield, claimed a second try seven minutes later after a lovely exchange of passes with Tony Diprose. Then it was Tony Roques, soloing upfield for number three; then it was Ben Johnston, smashing his way over after some heavy scrummaging from David Flatman and Julian White. Geoff Cooke, the former England coach who now runs the show at Worcester, could only shrug. "Turn over the ball against quality teams and you suffer," he said.

If the second half was a non-event, it was comfortably more interesting than the next round of boardroom wrangling is likely to be. One or two of the visiting side underlined their Premiership pedigree, notably the Tongan wing Sateki Tuipulotu, who hurt Saracens when he ran from deep and hurt them even more when he kicked for position. But the real eye-catcher was Tom Shanklin, the 20-year-old son of the former Welsh international wing Jim. His startling try on 58 minutes served as a timely reminder that rugby is about vision and confidence and an ability to seize the moment, qualities in short supply among the game's decision-makers.

Worcester will almost certainly win the Second Division title; indeed, they may secure it long before the end of the campaign. But, whichever way you look at it, they have a mountain to climb. The political battle is challenging enough and, were they to win the argument, either through the committee rooms or the courts, they would have to buy themselves a whole new team. And, as Saracens themselves are discovering at Heineken Cup level, money is far from everything.

Saracens: Tries O'Mahony, Horan, Roques, Johnston, Shanklin, Arasa; Conversions McRae 6. Worcester Try Murdoch; Conversion Tuipulotu; Penalties Tuipulotu 2.

Saracens: G Arasa; T Shanklin, B Johnston, T Horan (G Trueman, 79), D O'Mahony; D McRae, K Bracken (capt) (N Walshe, 58); D Flatman, R Russell, J White, W Davison (K Roche, 59), D Grewcock, K Chesney (R Hill, 71), A Roques, A Diprose.

Worcester: M Back; S Tuipulotu, A Murdoch (capt) (A Yapp, 82), R Keil, S Bromley (A McLean, 60); I Calder, R Jarman; N Lyman, A Lamerton (A Moretti, 61), A Collins (A Windo, 60), D Sims, R Denhardt (G Webster, 60), C Evans, N Carter, D Fryday.

Referee: N Yates (Manchester).

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