Twelve points from the boot of fly-half Ceiron Thomas helped Leeds secure Guinness Premiership survival and condemn Worcester to relegation in a tense dogfight at Headingley Carnegie.
Thomas kicked four penalties during a dour opening 40 minutes to put Leeds 12-3 up, Willie Walker replying with a penalty of his own for Worcester having missed with an earlier attempt.
Walker then missed two kickable penalties early in the second stanza before Alex Grove crossed from a Matthew Jones chip to narrow the gap, but it wasn’t enough for the Warriors as Jones saw his stoppage-time drop goal charged down to spark delirium among the Leeds faithful.
The defeat sees Worcester lose their top-flight status after a six-season stint in the Guinness Premiership and they could have few complaints as they were outfought by a hungry Leeds outfit. The Sixways club have flirted dangerously close to the drop in each of the past three seasons but there will be no reprieve for them on this occasion, with their return of just three wins from 21 games leaving them with too much to do with only their final game against Gloucester to come.
Leeds had made one change from the side that had secured last week’s vital win at London Irish with Kearnan Myall coming in for the injured Calum Clark in the back row. Worcester were without captain Pat Sanderson after he failed a late fitness test so former Australia full-back Chris Latham led the side with Chris Cracknell coming in at flanker. Scotland centre Grove partnered Sam Tuitupou in the centre.
Wing Chris Pennell had the chance to give the Warriors the lead with a second-minute penalty but his long-distance effort fell short and wide of the uprights. But Thomas made no mistake a few minutes later when he slotted over from 30 metres after a deliberate knock on by Grove to give the home side an early advantage.
Another penalty quickly followed as Worcester were caught offside after Pennell had failed to gather Scott Mathie’s box-kick and Thomas made no mistake in doubling the home side’s lead. Thomas was then wide with an effort from 43 metres in the 15th minute as the home pack destroyed the Warriors at a centre-field scrum, but when Kai Hortsmann entered a ruck illegally in the 20th minute the former Scarlets man made no mistake to make it 9-0.
The visitors’ ill-discipline continued and Tuitupou foolishly refused to pay heed to referee Dave Pearson’s warning not to chase a kick-ahead from an offside position, allowing Thomas to knock over his fourth three-pointer of the afternoon.
It had been an error-strewn opening half-hour from Worcester, with Mike Ruddock’s side losing three line-outs on their own throw and making countless handling errors in the heavy rainfall, but Walker finally got them on the board with a 34th-minute penalty.
And they made a strong start to the second half with two lengthy passages of attacking play leading to a penalty opportunity, but Walker failed to convert. The fly-half’s woes continued as he spurned a two-man overlap and the former Gloucester back then missed another kickable penalty in the 50th minute and was rapidly withdrawn in favour of Jones.
The Warriors’ line-out woes continued and another Leeds steal saw the Yorkshire club batter away at the Worcester line. Captain Marco Wentzel and flanker Hendre Fourie were among those to go close but a determined defensive effort saw the ball turned over.
A surging break from Worcester number eight Netani Talei took play to the other end of the field and a cross-kick from Jones deceived Thomas to allow Grove to cross for a converted try in the 70th minute to ratchet up the tension. And Jones had a chance to snatch victory with four minutes to play, but his huge penalty attempt fell well short and he then saw a stoppage-time drop goal charged down in a frantic finale.