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Stripped of 9 senior players to the Six Nations and a further 4 to age grade internationals, Wasps were faced with a muscular and experienced Warriors side hungry for a win after a poor run of form thus far in 2006.
In a first half that was strewn with error and some indiscipline by both sides, it was the Warriors who were able to capitalise on their opponents' mistakes and race away to a 23 - 8 lead by half time. The lead gave the home side confidence, and with Shane Drahm able to control the pace and enjoy the lions share of possession in the second half, the Warriors could only add to their lead, a further 14 points finishing off a victory that, if not handsome, was deserved.
Wasps kicked off and recovered the ball that Worcester failed to take cleanly, allowing Staunton to chip over the defence for Abbott. It was an early chance, and though the centre looked to be obstructed as he chased a tempting ball into the 22, referee Sean Davey was unimpressed. In contrast, Worcester were able to convert their first period of possession into points, Drahm kicking a penalty from the ten metre line in the fifth minute.
The hosts followed this with a try just three minutes later. Dominance in the set piece allowed Drahm to work with quick clean ball all night, and this was no exception - a slick move from first phase ball seeing Mark Tucker come off his wing and into the line to make the extra man and feed full back Nicolas Le Roux, who put Aisea Havili in at the corner. Drahm's conversion took his team out to a 10-point lead before the ten-minute mark was close.
A yellow card for hooker Joe Ward in the 12th minute was a further blow, but despite Drahm's kick from the penalty following the yellow card pinning Wasps deep in their 22, the visitors stole the line out and Van Gisbergen ran his team back into the Worcester half. Winning an offside decision, Staunton took the penalty quickly. Sackey made good yards and Skivington burst away from the breakdown, though with the try line beckoning, he spilled the ball in a tackle. However, a penalty conceded earlier in the movement allowed Staunton to get his team on the board in the 17th minute.
There were a lot of mistakes in the first half and the score could have been quite close - which would have lead to a very different second half - McGeechan
Having allowed Worcester a comfortable cushion early on, Wasps needed to retain possession and settle, giving themselves the chance to dictate the pace of the game to their hosts. It was not to be though, as the Champions lost their own line out in a promising attacking position soon after the restart to give Drahm, who had an impeccable kicking game both from the tee and in hand, the opportunity to clear the danger. Wasps regrouped though, and put in some good tackles behind the gain line to push once again into Worcester's half. A penalty for lying on the ball allowed Staunton another pot at goal from just on the edge of his range, but though the direction was sound, the ball didn't quite have the legs to get over the bar. Minutes later however, Drahm converted his penalty chance from inside his own half to re-establish the ten point advantage.
Wasps came back on the half hour mark with a well worked try from Tom Rees that served to maintain confidence and make inroads into the Worcester lead. Surges from Sackey, McKenzie and Rees took Wasps to within 5 metres of the try line, where the Warriors defence conceded the penalty. Staunton showed his sides intentions, kicking for a 5 metre line out, and from a long throw to the back, Rees gathered and spun off the defence to drive over. Staunton's conversion looked like a formality but Worcester charged the kick, which was enough to put him off his stride and consequently the ball rebounded off the post.
Having established that they were capable of beating the home side's defence, Wasps then contrived to pile more pressure on themselves from the restart. Successive handling errors in their own 22 while attempting to clear Drahm's long kick off meant Wasps handed their host's dominant scrum a brace of opportunities within pushover distance. However, the Wasps pack held firm, and with slow ball Worcester's backs could not penetrate the Champions' midfield. A handling error allowed Wasps to recover possession, and scrum half James Honeyben relieved the pressure with a clearance kick to halfway.
As the game approached half time it was still end-to-end stuff, with both sides offering up turnover ball that invited counter attack. Waters and Van Gisbergen combined to give Erinle a run deep into the Worcester 22, only a brave tackle from Le Roux saving the try. However, a charge down that went dead then allowed Drahm to kick long from the 22 drop out and put his side straight back in the Wasps 22. From there they tested the visitors scramble defence to its limit, scrum half Andy Gommersall mixing up play well between tight forward drives and midfield strike runners.
When referee Davey awarding another scrum within drivable distance, Wasps forwards were up against it as the clock ticked down to half time, and when Worcester's superior power in that department won them a penalty just 5 metres out, they took another scrum. With no time remaining, survival would have allowed Wasps to escape, but the Worcester scrum was too good, and with a Wasps player infringing to toe the ball away from No8 Drew Hickey, referee Davey had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, which Drahm converted for a 23-8 lead at half time.
Perhaps it was keenness on Wasps part that led to an early penalty against them for offside, but it nevertheless handed possession and an attacking position back to Worcester at the outset of the second half. A lineout and huge drive from the forwards put them within 5 metres, and from there Murphy broke away to spin over the line, Drahm's conversion giving the home side a 30-8 lead in the 43rd minute.
Wasps were still looking to attack, but too quick to kick possession back to the hosts, and Worcester enjoyed a glut of possession as the game approached the hour, happy to kick for position and steal the consequent Wasps line-out, thus keeping the visitors on a defensive footing.
Wasps took tactical action. Brooks and Hoadley replaced Staunton and Waters, with Va'a coming on for McKenzie, but they could not change the pattern that Worcester had established to shut their team out. Though Brooks attempted to get his back line moving, errors were still prevalent in the Wasps game, and Drahm could persist with his winning formula of territorial kicking for his jumpers to pick off the line-out.
In the final quarter Wasps tired from the defensive work, and Paul Sackey compounded his side's problems with a clothesline on his opposite number, Aisea Havili, that saw him receive a yellow card.
With the Worcester crowd already celebrating, a knock on from Van Gisbergen when fielding an unprepossessing Drahm kick gifted Worcester the perfect field placement for a final flourish. Replacement Thinus Delport's break kept his side going forward, and he was able to finish the attack off by taking a short pass off Drahm's shoulder to score Worcester's 4th try in the 77th minute. An interception in his own 22 in the dying minutes from Havili looked to add insult to injury, but after running the length of the field the winger was called back, the referee adjudging crossing and at full time the score remained 37-8.
Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan was philosophical after the game.
'We lost it in the first half really. There were a lot of mistakes and the score could have been quite close - which would have lead to a very different second half. However, we gave Worcester too many soft points and then never looked like coming near them after that.
'It was a poor performance from us, by far our worst of the season, which is disappointing as up to this point we had been playing pretty well when our internationals weren't with us.
'Mentally we were off the game today. We made a lot of unforced errors and if you are that 3 or 4 per cent off, then it becomes a very difficult game as every opposition in this league is strong enough to use that advantage well.'
Referee: Sean Davey
MOTM: Shane Drahm