Bath took another significant stride towards the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP play-offs after they edged an enthralling encounter at Sixways.
Centre Tom Cheeseman scored three tries, allowing Bath to stay afloat despite the best efforts of Worcester wing prospect Miles Benjamin.
Much has been made about England’s exciting new generation of backs, but 19-year-old Benjamin’s name should now be added alongside players like Danny Cipriani, Shane Geraghty and Danny Care.
Benjamin, a product of the Worcester academy system, claimed two high-class tries that underlined his burgeoning reputation as a ruthless finisher.
His performance set the tone for a spirited Worcester recovery from 16-8 adrift, before Cheeseman administered the killer blow.
Worcester, who lost injured captain Pat Sanderson in the first half, laid siege to Bath’s line during injury time.
But heroic Bath defence – with lock Danny Grewcock producing an astounding tackle count – kept them out, confining Warriors to a losing bonus point.
The game could prove a dress rehearsal for next month’s European Challenge Cup final, and on today’s evidence, it would be an encounter not to miss.
Worcester welcomed back several of the players who missed last weekend’s 49-12 defeat against in-form Wasps, including Greg Rawlinson and their New Zealand centre combination of Sam Tuitupou and Rico Gear.
Bath, midweek conquerors of Leicester, switched prop Matt Stevens to loosehead as replacement for an injured David Flatman, while Duncan Bell wore the number three shirt and there were also call-ups for Barkley and his midfield partner Cheeseman.
Tuitupou made an immediate impression in defence, holding up Bath hooker Lee Mears over the Worcester line to prevent a certain sixth-minute try.
But the Warriors could not withstand another Bath onslaught two minutes later, when Cheeseman had the simple task of rounding off a slick move by collecting full-back Joe Maddock’s scoring pass.
Bath were quicker in thought and deed during the early stages, and although Shane Drahm opened Worcester’s account through a long-range penalty, the visitors continued dominating possession.
They could only stand and admire Worcester’s response though, as they conjured a contender for try of the season.
Bath were entrenched in the Warriors’ 22, yet wing Marcel Garvey broke out of defence and cut inside to the halfway line where Gear took his pass, bounced off to tackles and sent Benjamin sprinting 40 metres into the corner.
It was a stunning score, but Worcester’s lead lasted just six minutes, courtesy of impressive work by England forwards Mears and Michael Lipman.
Mears’ pass sent Lipman blasting into midfield space, and quickly recycled possession by the Bath pack saw Cheeseman cross wide out for his second try.
Olly Barkley, who later slotted two penalties and a conversion, could not add the extras, and Worcester suffered another setback just before half-time when Sanderson limped off after taking a heavy blow to the upper area of his left leg.
Rawlinson took over as captain in Sanderson’s absence, while Bath made an interval switch as Bell made way for David Barnes.
And Barkley quickly extended Bath’s lead to eight points when he drilled over a 50-metre penalty, but it served merely as a cue for Worcester ace Benjamin to showcase more of his blistering finishing power.
There appeared little on when he received possession 25 metres out, yet his power and pace took saw him smash through the Bath defence and then just have enough room to touch down under three tacklers.
It provided Bath with a graphic reminder that Worcester had no intention of surrendering, and things deteriorated for the visitors after 61 minutes.
Scrum-half Michael Claassens and replacement full-back Michael Stephenson dithered fatally just outside their own 22, watching a bouncing ball land between them, and Drahm gratefully collected the gift to sprint over unopposed.
Drahm kicked the simple conversion, and Bath trailed 20-16, finding themselves under mounting pressure.
But Cheeseman came up trumps when it mattered, finishing off a slick move 11 minutes from time, with Barkley’s touchline conversion proving a hammer blow for Worcester.
Bath then had sufficient experience and expertise to close the game out, repelling Worcester’s frantic late assault and claiming a crucial win that keeps them second and on course for a home semi-final in the title play-offs next month.