Worcester took a giant step towards GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP survival with a stunning win over relegation rivals Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.
Drew Hickey burst through some poor tackles to score a priceless try early in the second half and Shane Drahm’s conversion and penalty were enough to secure the Warriors second league victory of the season.
Carlos Spencer replied with three penalties for the Saints but his three misses – one from point-blank range – were very expensive.
The win hauled the visitors to within six points of Northampton at the bottom of the table, although they face a long road to safety with a daunting sequence of league games to come against Wasps (twice), Leicester and Gloucester.
But despite those odds Worcester will feel buoyant after surviving the sin-binning of Aisea Havili, attacking with more élan than they have shown for months and defending superbly.
They had made five changes to freshen up a side with only one league win to their credit this season which started the day nine points adrift of their opponents.
Full-back Drahm, centre Gary Trueman and scrum-half Ryan Powell all returned in the backline with Gavin Quinnell and Hickey adding extra ball-carrying power in the back-row.
Northampton welcomed back Ben Cohen following the England wing’s recovery from a shoulder injury sustained in the autumn internationals and were at full-strength as they recalled a handful of players rested at Saracens last week.
The high stakes made for a tense opening quarter not helped by both sides struggling to come to terms with the new scrum laws which saw the ball emerge cleanly only once in the first dozen engagements.
Spencer finally opened the scoring with a 13th minute penalty only for his Northampton predecessor Drahm to reply four minutes later.
Worcester looked a much livelier side than the one that crashed 27-20 at home to Harlequins and attacked some wider channels than they have done in previous weeks as they tried to outflank the opposition defence.
Northampton, though, were sharper in the loose and put together a string of promising attacks – Spencer and Sean Lamont combining down the left – as well testing Worcester at a sequence of close-range scrums.
The pressure finally told with Spencer adding another penalty after 31 minutes but he inexplicably missed the easiest kick of the game two minutes before the break when his side deserved some reward for Lamont’s adventure with the ball in hand.
The advantage appeared to tilt further in their favour four minutes after the break when Aisea Havili was sin-binned by referee Rob Debney for wading into a ruck after Paul Diggin had surged to within five metres of the line.
But Worcester survived that 10-minute spell without conceding any more points, even threatening a second score only to lose the ball when they drove for the line.
And once Havili had returned they plundered an unlikely try after 57 minutes when a promising thrust down the left was followed up by Hickey, who bumped his way through a trio of tacklers to the line with Drahm landing a superb conversion.
Northampton clawed three points back with Spencer’s third penalty on the hour but Northampton were being punished for defensive errors – the New Zealander missing fly-half Brown, who created a scoring opportunity his backline colleagues somehow squandered wide on the left.
Spencer might have won the game with a 73rd-minute long-range penalty that drifted wide of the right-hand post when he might have kicked for the corner once more.
His side did not get a second chance as Worcester defended superbly – Dale Rasmussen delivering a handful of thumping tackles – to close out the win with something to spare.