GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP strugglers Worcester closed the gap on nearest relegation rivals Northampton by grinding out a dour draw at Sixways.
The Warriors moved just three points behind Saints – Northampton though, have two games in hand – after Wasps completed their sixth successive GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP away game without a win.
Wasps fly-half Dave Walder and Worcester full-back Shane Drahm exchanged penalties before the break, but a turgid, tryless encounter left the crowd of just over 9,000 short-changed.
Wasps have failed to beat Worcester on three GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP trips to Sixways, yet their share of the spoils closed the gap on league pace-setters Bristol and Leicester.
The Londoners remain comfortably situated in third place with regard to this season’s title play-offs. Worcester though, cannot afford defeat in their next two home games during the RBS 6 Nations Championship period against Leicester and Bath.
England captain Phil Vickery was replaced on the Wasps bench by Nick Adams, but purely as a precautionary measure as he rested a minor ankle problem ahead of next week’s Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Wasps though, confirmed England wing Paul Sackey will not return to full training for another month after undergoing knee surgery yesterday, which effectively rules him out of the opening three Six Nations appointments with Scotland, Italy and Ireland.
The Heineken Cup quarter-finalists made wholesale changes following a punishing success against Castres last Saturday, while Worcester, in desperate need of GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP points, were led by axed England flanker Pat Sanderson.
Wasps, inevitably fatigued after their defensive heroics in France, conceded territorial advantage for most of the opening period.
Walder kicked them ahead through a 10th-minute penalty from 48 metres, but only centre Dominic Waldouck came close to a try when he narrowly failed to gather a kick that rolled menacingly behind the Worcester defence.
Worcester secured plenty of possession, yet their lack of confidence with ball in hand was evident throughout the opening period.
Time and time again, Warriors shipped possession far too laterally, which was meat and drink to Wasps’ supremely-organised defence.
The visitors saw full-back Mark Van Gisbergen, who was making his first appearance since Boxing Day, sin-binned for a late tackle on Warriors scrum-half Matt Powell, and although the visitors kept plugging away, they did not open their account until first-half injury time.
Referee Chris White punished Wasps for pulling down a maul, and Drahm’s short-range strike ended a forgettable opening period as Worcester at last hauled themselves level at 3-3.
England lock Tom Palmer appeared as a 52nd-minute replacement for Simon Shaw, and it remained a largely defensive emphasis for Wasps, with Drahm mixing his attacking game superbly from full-back.
Van Gisbergen was pressed into a last-gasp tackle on Worcester wing Aisea Havili, and with the Warriors continuing to dominate, Wasps rugby director Ian McGeechan made a triple substitution, sending on Joe Worsley, James Haskell and Raphael Ibanez.
Wasps skipper Lawrence Dallaglio was among the group that made way, with both McGeechan and opposite number John Brain targeting any minor advantage in pursuit of an overall breakthrough.
Worcester prop Chris Horsman, who could be on Six Nations duty for Wales against Ireland next weekend, left on the hour-mark after ensuring a gruelling evening for Wasps’ front-row.
The final quarter arrived with Wasps reeling from a 15-3 penalty count against them, but they almost conjured a try from nothing when quickly recycled possession sent substitute Danny Cipriani clear, only for an alert Havili to haul him down.
The closing minutes saw both sides content to salvage two points each, and a scoreless second period came as no real surprise.