If patience in English rugby has been tested of late, this was the kind of experience to make a fan wonder why they bother. Relentless boshing, relentless rain, but at least the twist of a surprise victory at the death. Worcester have a troubling habit of putting themselves in winning positions, only to blow it, as last weekend at home to Exeter, at the death. This time, they dominated throughout, bode their time, and struck a quarter of an hour from time to claim a precious away win.
Jamie Shillcock was worked over to atone for an earlier error, when Quins claimed an early lead with two tries that may have been as much curses as blessings, given the way they sat back after scoring. They wouldn’t register a point beyond the 13th minute. In these salary-sensitive times, the depth of both squads was tested, as was their composure in the rain. Suffice it to say, both clubs played as if well within budget.
Neither club is riding higher than mid-table with a win apiece from their first three World Cup-affected matches, but Worcester hogged the majority of possession, forcing Quins into nearly twice the number of tackles. But the trouble with possession on a day like this is that if you keep the ball long enough you will spill it eventually. So it proved for the Warriors.
An early penalty by James Lance, a replacement for Duncan Weir and installed as captain to boot, set Worcester off, but Quins swooped for two quick tries either side of the 10-minute mark. A lovely inside ball by their captain for the day, James Chisholm, set Alex Dombrandt free to the line after a couple of hefty carries by Tevita Cavubati on his debut. Five minutes later, Francis Saili rattled Shillcock, who spilled the ball from a high ball, and Chisholm hacked on adeptly to touch down for a second. At 14-3 with not even a quarter of an hour played, Quins seemed to resign themselves to defensive duties.
Worcester dominated, Melani Nanai, their new bruiser on the wing, a like-for-like replacement for Bryce Heem, flexing his muscles and countless others flooding in behind him. But the weather and a rugged defensive error restricted them to just two more Lance penalties (and one straightforward miss) for a 14-9 deficit at the break.
Not much changed thereafter, bar a thickening of the curtain of rain. Water began to stand on the pitch, as Worcester continued to hammer away and spill, hammer away and spill. Salvation was forthcoming at last with quarter of an hour to go. On came Joe Taufete’e, nominated for world player of the year recently, who carried with feeling, and from the next phase, Michael Heaney sent Shillcock arcing to the line through a couple of defenders. It was the very least of their deserts.
Quins took a turn then at hammering away, only to encounter the same problem – the wetness of a rugby ball. So the match ended as it had been conducted for more or less the entirety. Worcester hammered; Quins crept offside; and the time was up. Rather than hoof the ball into touch, Lance lined up one last kick at goal, which he converted. The right team had won.