Eighteen years ago this month, Worcester made their first Premiership appearance, arriving in the top flight with excitement and aspirations, buoyed by the benevolence of their backer Cecil Duckworth. Optimism was in the air and it is worth glancing back to those more innocent times because, as fate would have it, the visitors that day were Newcastle Falcons. If this rousing victory over the same opposition, nearly 20 years on, does prove to be Worcester’s last game in the Premiership there will have been serendipity in how they have come full circle.
There was a far happier outcome too, at least in the short term. In 2004 they were comfortably beaten whereas on Saturday they out-thought, out-fought and eventually overwhelmed Newcastle, scoring five well-worked tries and delivering a reminder that Steve Diamond has quality at his disposal if the house can be put in order. Beforehand Diamond had promised Worcester would be out on the town come what may against the Falcons, in recognition of how difficult the last weeks have been and as a reward for the players and coaches remaining united. You’d imagine it will taste a little sweeter in victory before thoughts turn to what the future holds.
The players were insured against injury, but that they produced this kind of showing knowing that a long-term injury could be catastrophic should they need to find new employers, is to their credit. “Out with a bang, eh?” said Diamond. “We had a vote yesterday, of whether we played or not, and it was virtually unanimous that we played, from the players. I gave them the option not to play. There was a big risk but they said, to a man, that loyalty to the club and the pride that they show for the club, that they were determined to play. That performance mirrored that.”
What comes next for the Warriors? No one is expected at the club on Monday amid acceptance that the RFU’s deadline will not be met. This match was a send-off of sorts, what supporters will hope bookends the sorriest chapter in their history. There remains hope it will not be the last but, if and when suspension comes, the players will not be expected at training for the foreseeable future. They are unable to use Sixways because their public liability insurance expires on Monday, and Diamond is giving his players a bit of time off.
The future beyond Monday becomes a waiting game, then. All the while Sixways will sit empty, lights off, gathering dust, the caretaker and his wife evicted. Should administration materialise it cannot come early enough to prevent suspension - as quick a process as it can be there are simply too many requirements to be met to stave off at least a temporary ban. Some players could conceivably go out on loan, others will keep themselves in shape alone before training in some form or other resumes. They are contractually obliged to stay until their September wages fail to arrive but the administration process may well have started by then, even if there is a consortium waiting in the wings. In other words, we can only really be sure that uncertainty will reign once the sore heads have subsided.
Newcastle, for their part, were shell-shocked, caught up in an emotional afternoon for their hosts, who were given a guard of honour by their wives, girlfriends and families before kick-off. The fact that the result is unlikely to stand if Worcester have indeed played their last match of the season cannot have helped Newcastle’s focus either.
They began brightly enough, forcing Worcester into conceding three penalties in the opening five minutes, before their captain George McGuigan added his fourth try of the season with a trademark score from a driving maul. Worcester were unperturbed and steadily felt their way into the match. Ollie Lawrence dashed down the left while the Sixways crowd – again limited to 4,999, all in one stand – were on their feet when the Warriors won a scrum penalty on halfway. Alex Hearle was over for his try next to the posts soon after and Van der Merwe scooted over on the left after a delightful floated pass from Billy Searle. A penalty from the fly-half pushed Worcester’s half-time lead out to 10.
Diamond and his coaching staff grew all the louder as the second half wore on, roaring at their players to relish the hard yards, to put their heads where it hurt. Given the last few weeks they willingly obliged, with Curtis Langdon and Francois Venter, captain for the day, again to the fore. Another Searle penalty gave Worcester some breathing space and after Venter – perhaps Worcester’s player of the season – made a piercing break, the scrum-half Gareth Simpson was on hand for try No 3, allowing the Warriors faithful to drink in the final minutes knowing victory had been secured. Late scores for Matt and Joe Batley added shine to Worcester’s valediction.