Worcester Warriors claimed their first victory of the season against a Cardiff Blues side missing 20 players to injury and international call-ups as the LV= Cup kicked-off at the Arms Park.
Dean Ryan’s beleaguered side picked up a much-needed confidence-booster as they won 21-16 to taste success for the first time in 15 competitive matches, stretching back to the win over London Wasps at Sixways back in March.
First-half tries from Rob O’Donnell, debutant James Stephenson and Max Stelling had the visitors coasting towards a bonus-point, but they became bogged down after the break and ended up clinging on as the Blues turned the screw late on.
Blues replied with three penalties – two from Gareth Davies and one from his replacement Simon Humberstone as well as a try from flanker Thomas Young – but Phil Davies’ plucky youngsters were not quite able to overhaul the Aviva Premiership outfit.
Cardiff fly-half Davies booted two penalties to give the hosts an early lead, but was soon helped off the field to be replaced by Pontypridd No.10 Humberstone.
However, Warriors’ superior experience began to tell as the hosts struggled to match their opponents’ driving game as giant tighthead prop O’Donnell burst through would-be tacklers to score and hand Ignacio Mieres a simple kick to put Worcester ahead.
Stephenson then introduced himself to top-flight rugby with a superb piece of footwork to dance out of a tight spot and cross to set up another seven-pointer.
Young centre Stelling cut a brilliant line to shred the Blues defence as Warriors added a third score, but the visitors were reduced to 14 men in first-half stoppage time when Chris Jones was sin-binned for dragging a maul down.
Cardiff grabbed a foothold in the match when the ball went loose from a Warriors scrum put-in inside their 22 and Young pounced to score beneath the posts, before Humberstone’s conversion made it 21-13.
The outside-half struck a 65th-minute penalty to bring the Blues back to within a score as they continued to have the upper hand.
In fact, it took a last-ditch tackle by former Ospreys man Jonathan Thomas to dislodge the ball from Humberstone as the fly-half burst for the line to ensure Warriors’ win.
Be part of the rugby family at the LV=Cup Final at Sandy Park, Exeter on March 16th. Tickets now available www.ticketmaster.co.uk