London Irish moved back into the title play-off places as Worcester suffered another major blow in their frantic bid for Guinness Premiership survival.
Worcester remain bottom of the table, three points behind Leeds Carnegie with just three games left – including a trip to Headingley in 15 days’ time. But they were partially architects of their own downfall after failing to build on a promising 10-3 lead.
England international brothers Delon and Steffon Armitage scored Irish’s tries, with fly-half Chris Malone adding 13 points from the boot, while Worcester posted an early Alex Grove touchdown that was converted by Willie Walker, who also kicked two penalties.
Despite perfect conditions, the game never moved out of third gear, with Irish content to play a territory game throughout the second half. But it had the desired effect as Bob Casey’s team eased three points above Wasps into fourth spot, and just four behind Saracens.
They will back themselves to collect a five-point maximum against Madejski Stadium visitors Leeds next weekend, which would keep them firmly on course for another play-off appearance after they narrowly lost last season’s Guinness Premiership final against Leicester.
Worcester though, Guinness Premiership ever-presents since being promoted as unbeaten National League One champions in 2004, must beat Sixways visitors Wasps in seven days’ time to resuscitate a league campaign in dire need of inspiration.
Worcester showed four changes from the side beaten by Sale last time out as Warriors targeted only their fourth Guinness Premiership win of a dismal campaign, while Irish handed starts to young forwards Alex Corbisiero and Jamie Gibson. And it was the Warriors who struck first, belying their league position by making a strong start that brought its reward after 14 minutes.
Worcester lost flanker Tom Wood with an early injury sustained when Irish pressed deep inside the home 22, but a speculative defensive clearance by full-back Chris Latham then put Irish in all kinds of bother. They failed to deal with a wickedly-bouncing ball and, after centre Dale Rasmussen hacked on, his midfield partner Grove sprinted over unopposed.
Walker added the conversion, before Irish quickly found themselves under further pressure as Worcester’s forwards displayed a ravenous appetite for the occasion. Despite Walker booting a penalty though, cancelling out a Malone strike, Irish weathered the storm before stunning Worcester with a 14-point blitz in five minutes just before half-time.
Warriors wing Marcel Garvey was penalised for not releasing possession near his own line and, before Worcester’s defence could regroup, Malone’s clever cross-kick was caught by Delon Armitage, who easily finished off. Malone’s conversion tied the game, but Irish were not finished and good close-quarter work by their pack enabled Steffon Armitage to rumble over and give his team the lead for the first time.
Another successful Malone conversion ended the first half, enabling Irish to troop off 17-10 in front and leaving Worcester wondering where it had gone wrong after they dominated most of the opening period.
Worcester knew they needed to disrupt Irish’s rhythm, and a 45th-minute Walker penalty narrowed the gap, renewing confidence among home supporters lifted by Leeds’ emphatic defeat against Harlequins.
Malone quickly re-established a seven-point lead with his second penalty, and there were ominous signs for Worcester when they gifted him another chance after the front row infringed at a scrum. It meant Irish led by 10 points with only 15 minutes remaining, and Worcester’s loss of composure was underlined when Matthew Jones – on as a replacement for Walker – missed an easy penalty chance.
And that was the closest Worcester got to even claiming a losing bonus point as their six-season stay in English rugby’s top flight remains under huge threat.