Sixways continues to be a bogey ground for Gloucester Rugby as Worcester Warriors battled their way to a 27-20 Gallagher Premiership victory on Sunday. However, the losing bonus point sees the Cherry and Whites qualify for the end of season play-offs.
It’s not the way that Gloucester Rugby would have wanted to qualify for the semi-finals for the first time since 2011. They’d come into the game in a decent run of form, and looked well set when they led at half-time.
However, a determined second half effort from the Warriors proved to be decisive despite Gloucester Rugby’s best efforts to get back into the game. As it was, the losing bonus point was enough to ensure post-season participation despite defeat on the day.
There were celebrations on the pitch at full-time as home players and supporters celebrated Premiership survival. Relegation isn’t quite as cut and dried just yet. Newcastle are still technically still alive and are Gloucester Rugby’s opponents at Kingsholm next weekend.
The Cherry and Whites will certainly have to be more accurate in their execution, and be more disciplined next weekend if they are to triumph. But they will want to sign off in style in front of their own supporters at Kingsholm.
It was a lively start on the day from the home side who kept Gloucester Rugby pinned back in their own half for the first few minutes. A half break from Nick Schonert, supported by Marco Mama, had the Cherry and Whites scrambling and a penalty was conceded. Duncan Weir made no mistake for 3-0 after six minutes.
The Cherry and Whites took a little while to work their way into the game, but finally got things going on 11 minutes. A good catch and drive got the Worcester pack moving backwards, before slick hands saw Henry Purdy come in off the wing to loop around Danny Cipriani and power his way to the line. 3-5 after 11 minutes.
However, the Gloucester Rugby back line was caught offside shortly after the restart and, from just outside the 10 metre line, Weir was on target with his second penalty of the afternoon to edge his team in front 6-5.
The Warriors were clearly fired up, and extended their lead on 19 minutes. A neat inside pass from Weir sent Perry Humphreys through a gap and into the 22. Willi Heinz got back, but quickly recycled ball sent Weir clear and under the posts. The fly-half converted his own try for 13-5.
The Cherry and Whites were quickly back on the front foot, probing for openings in the home defence which was forced to give away a penalty bang in front of their own posts, and Billy Twelvetrees slotted the penalty to narrow the gap to 13-8.
A piece of Cipriani magic then had Gloucester Rugby moving forward again, the fly-half chipping over the defensive line and regathering. The Warriors were stretched as Purdy threatened twice but just held out.
The Cherry and Whites were starting to ask all sorts of questions in the Worcester 22, and the home defence seemed to get away with some dubious work at the breakdown but continued to hang tough and deny the visitors.
And, finally, the pressure told as half-time approached. Danny Cipriani sent Billy Twelvetrees steaming through a gap and received the ball back from the centre. Mark Atkinson took Cipriani’s offload and then found Willi Heinz who went under the posts untouched for a fine score. Twelvetrees converted for 13-15.
It gave the Cherry and Whites the narrowest of leads at half-time, and perhaps deservedly so given the pressure they’d applied in the final 15 minutes of the half. It was reminiscent of the score just before half-time against Bath a few weeks ago. Would it prove to be just as pivotal?
Gloucester Rugby would feel satisfied to be in front at the interval and to now have the wind at their backs, but very conscious that their advantage was a narrow one and that Worcester had asked a few questions of their own in the first half. There was plenty of rugby left to play in this one just yet.
And the second half started with the home team desperate to regain the lead. Gloucester Rugby’s scrum found itself under some pressure, as did its defence, and a string of penalties gave the Warriors all the possession they needed.
Something had to give as the home team poured forward, wave after wave of attack slamming into Gloucester Rugby tacklers and, eventually, hooker Niall Annett touched down against the post padding. Weir converted for 20-15 after 50 minutes.
Indiscipline was starting to hurt the Cherry and Whites at this stage, and they would have to recover their composure to work their way back into the game. But the momentum was firmly behind the home team especially as Danny Cipriani left the field.
And Worcester made the most of it, as they laid siege to the Gloucester Rugby line. A big defensive stand followed, but it wasn’t enough as Darren Barry crashed over from close range and Weir converted for 27-15.
A big response was needed, and the Cherry and Whites showed great heart to immediately go over for their third try. A close range catch and drive was held out, but the ball was released to the backs and Charlie Sharples’ long pass put Purdy over for his second. Twelvetrees’ conversion hit the upright and stayed out.
Trailing 27-20, Gloucester Rugby were still within losing bonus point range but the minutes were ticking away in frustrating fashion and the Warriors were winning the territorial battle.
There was one last opportunity as a penalty award allowed Lloyd Evans to drill the kick into the corner, but Worcester managed to spoil possession and close out a vital win as Gloucester Rugby’s quest for a first league win at Sixways since May 2010 goes on.