Francois Hougaard crossed for a try on debut as Worcester Warriors claimed their first win in 2016 but they had to hold off a Sale Sharks comeback at Sixways.
With no win since round four in Aviva Premiership Rugby, the Warriors hit the ground running on Saturday as Carl Kirwan and Hougaard both went over in the first half.
Dave Seymour gave the Sharks a foothold before the break but the accurate place kicking of Warriors stand-off Tom Heathcote was in stark contrast to Danny Cipriani who had a tough day from the tee.
Tommy Taylor’s try straight after half-time trimmed the lead again but Chris Pennell hit straight back for the home side to put them 31-13 to the good.
Sharks full-back Mike Haley then crossed twice in the final 20 minutes to claim the consolation of a four-try bonus point but Cipriani’s four missed conversions meant the Warriors victory was secured – and lifts them to tenth in the league standings with Newcastle Falcons playing on Sunday.
The Sharks have won their last six matches in all competitions – their best run since 2007, with their only defeat in their last four away games coming at Exeter on Boxing Day.
But it was Worcester who showed an early signal of intent at Sixways, sending a kickable penalty to the corner and when the lineout drew a second infringement Heathcote this time kicked them into a 3-0 lead.
The hosts were flying and in the ninth minute they had their first try, Kirwan dotting down out wide after fine breaks from first Pennell and then Cooper Vuna had made the initial inroads.
The extras leaked wide from Heathcote and Cipriani then kicked a penalty on Sale’s first trip into the Warriors half to close the gap to 8-3.
That was a momentary hiccup for the hosts though, who wanted to make the most of their fine start and a stunning second score after Heathcote and Bryce Heem combined was denied by the TMO after a hand in the scrum.
But that was a momentary reprieve for the visitors as Springbok Hougaard’s debut try came not long after following a strong move from the driving maul – the scrum-half shrugging off Cipriani like he wasn’t there to dot down.
Heathcote’s conversion sneaked over and when he added a penalty after that the Warriors were 18-3 up and looking good.
Sale needed a response before the interval and their own driving maul provided it when Seymour was driven over.
Cipriani could not convert and when Haley saw yellow before the break and Heathcote slotted over the subsequent penalty it was 21-8.
Sale fired the first shot in the second half, again the driving maul doing the damage as Taylor dotted down.
Cipriani’s conversion was wide however and the Warriors’ response was immediate, Pennell the beneficiary down the left after a number of drives close to the line.
Heathcote’s nerveless kicking continued as he added the touchline conversion to make it 31-13 and with less than an hour gone.
But not for nothing were the Sharks unbeaten in 2016 and they conjured their own third try down the right before the hour mark, Haley the scorer.
Cipriani still had not found his kicking boots and he pulled this conversion just wide, a vital six points lost considering the 31-18 scoreline.
When Nic Schonert was sent to the sin bin in the 66th minute for persistent Warriors infringements the Sharks smelled blood.
But despite being camped in the Warriors 22 for the rest of the match, the hosts’ defence held firm until the final minute as Haley snuck over after a fine offload from Mark Jennings, Cipriani's rushed conversion again wide to deny the Sharks a losing bonus point.