All our yesterdays: Worcester special
The romantics who continue to plead for the retention of relegation from the Premiership commonly refer to the ‘Exeter factor’ – a reference to Exeter’s rise from the third tier to the Premiership and European summit within just over a decade, when in fact it took much longer.
But Exeter’s rise is nothing compared to that of Worcester Warriors.
One of the country’s oldest clubs, Worcester were founded in 1871, some six years before the Falcons (or Gosforth as they were known then), began life.
After the formation of the league system in 1987-88 Worcester were in North Midlands Division One, or level 8 in the national pyramid.
After three seasons there they were promoted to Midlands Two, and two seasons later still from there to Midlands One at the end of the 1992-93 season, the same season that Gosforth – by then trading as Newcastle Gosforth – were promoted for the only time as an amateur club to Division One.
There followed for Worcester a meteoric rise with four successive promotions, which saw them rise to the second tier – then known as National League One – at the end of the 1997-98 season, the same season in which the Falcons won the Premiership title.
Before the romantics get carried away it should be borne in mind that Worcester and Exeter, whose rise to the top saw them take 22 years to move from Division Three to the Premiership with three promotions and a relegation along the way, had one key factor in common – huge financial backing.
In the case of Worcester that came from the late Cecil Duckworth, the founder of Worcester Bosch, who invested heavily in the team and in the facilities at Sixways which had been the club’s home since 1975.
The final step up to the Premiership proved to be rather more challenging for the Warriors. After two seasons finishing third and three seasons as runners-up in what is now the Championship, they finally made it to the top tier with their seventh promotion in 14 years at the end of the 2003-04 season.
As it happens, their opening game in the Premiership, on September 5, 2004, was at home to the Falcons.
Over 8,000 crammed into a then much smaller Sixways in glorious late summer sunshine. They faced a Newcastle side including new signings Colin Charvis, Luke Gross and Mike McCarthy, whilst Jonny Wilkinson was starting his first Premiership game for nine months.
Worcester made the more impressive start and led 6-0 after 15 minutes through two James Brown penalties. The visitors eventually came to life and a Wilkinson penalty halved the deficit before a debut try from McCarthy, following a break and offload from Michael Stephenson, edged them ahead, Wilkinson converting for 10-6.
Constant Newcastle pressure as half-time approached paid dividends as two more Wilkinson penalties gave the Falcons a ten-point cushion at the break.
The next score should have been crucial but it took another 20 minutes and came from Warriors’ replacement Tommy Hayes, whose penalty brought the hosts within a converted try at 9-16.
The Falcons responded almost immediately with centre Mark Mayerhofler scoring between the posts – Wilkinson’s conversion taking the lead to a seemingly unassailable 23-9.
The visitors finished the game on the front foot with a try from lock Stuart Grimes following a delayed pass from replacement full-back Dave Walder, along with another Wilkinson conversion, which left a final score of 30-9.
In his post-match interview Falcons’ director of rugby Rob Andrew made some disparaging comments about the Warrior’s ability to compete in the Premiership, remarks which came back to bite him when Worcester won the return fixture 21-16 at Kingston Park the following April.
The Falcons followed this opening-day victory with an impressive 33-18 win at Bath and a 22-21 home win against Harlequins to lead the table after three games, but the season rather tailed off as they finished seventh and missed out on Heineken Cup qualification in a play-off at Gloucester.
For their part, Worcester finished a respectable ninth. They hung on in the Premiership for six seasons before relegation at the end of the 2009-10 season, but they bounced back immediately, winning 30 out of 31 matches.
The teams that day were as follows:
**Newcastle:** J.Shaw; T.May; J.Noon; M.Mayerhofler; M.Stephenson; J.Wilkinson; H.Charlton; I.Peel; M.Thompson; M.Hurter; L.Gross; S.Grimes; M.McCarthy; C.Charvis, P.Dowson
**Worcester:** D.O’Leary; B.Gollings; D.Rasmussen; G.Trueman; T.Lombard; J.Brown; N.Cole; T.Windo; B.Daly; N.Lyman; T.Collier; C.Gillies; L.Greef; P.Sanderson; D.Hickey
The referee was Roy Maybank.
Another significant fixture between the two clubs was on October 5, 2013.
Newcastle were newly returned to the Premiership under Dean Richards for his second season at the club. They started the season poorly, losing at home to Bath and Gloucester and away at Leicester, although a narrow win at Sale meant that they were separated from bottom place by Worcester, who had yet to register a win, and so the early-season fixture was already seen as pivotal to both clubs’ chances of avoiding the drop.
This time, in front of 6,415, the Falcons started the stronger. They went ahead on three minutes when newly re-signed fly-half Rory Clegg slotted a penalty and then added the conversion to a try from Mike Blair following sustained forward pressure and a charge from Carlo del Flava, which left the scrum-half with an easy pick and go.
A second Clegg penalty on 23 minutes extended the lead to 13-0 and it was six minutes before half-time until the Warriors opened their account with a penalty from Argentinian Ignacio Mieres. A yellow card for prop Oliver Tomaszczyk just before the break added to the pressure on the Falcons’ line.
Mieres’ second penalty seven minutes into the second half reduced the arrears to 6-13, and when David Lemi squeezed over for a try in the corner with 11 minutes remaining there was clearly growing anxiety amongst the travelling support. Fortunately, replacement Paul Warwick was unable to add the conversion.
With five minutes remaining an off-the-ball offence enabled Falcons’ replacement Phil Godman to kick a penalty for 16-11, and a heroic defensive effort saw the visitors hold on for a crucial win which took them up to ninth in the table, albeit have played one more game than the teams now immediately below them.
The four points were to prove crucial in the final reckoning as the Falcons finished the season 11th with just 22 points, whilst Worcester were relegated with 16 points.
The teams that day were as follows:
**Newcastle:** A.Tait; N.Cato; A.Powell; J.Fitzpatrick; T.Catterick; R.Clegg; M.Blair; R.Vickers; M.Thompson; O.Tomaszczyk; C.del Flava; D.Barrow, M.Wilson; W.Welch; A.Hogg
**Worcester:** C.Pennell; J.Drauniniu; R.Fatiaki; J.Matavesi; D.Lemi; I.Mieres; P.Hodgson; J.Becasseau; E.Murray; M.Williams; C.Jones; J.Thomas; J.Abbott; S.Taulava
The referee was Martin Fox.
Worcester bounced straight back up the following season, winning a dramatic play-off match at Bristol with a last minute try after losing the home leg. Although they acquired a reputation as something of a ‘yo-yo’ club, their record against the Falcons since that first match back in 2004 is good. Of 24 matches played Worcester have won 14 and the Falcons just 8, with two matches drawn, both by the same score – 16-16.