Worcester could be relegated from the Guinness Premiership next weekend after Wasps moved back into title play-off contention at Sixways.
But Wasps were made to scrap in the sunshine after two Dominic Waldouck tries and a Tom Rees touchdown put them 21-3 up after 23 minutes.
Worcester, belying their rock-bottom status, displayed admirable character to fight back through tries from skipper Pat Sanderson and substitute centre Alex Grove, while fly-half Willie Walker booted 10 points. Defeat away to fellow strugglers Leeds next Sunday though, could end the Warriors’ six-year Guinness Premiership stint after Danny Cipriani’s three conversions and a penalty made the difference.
At one stage, Wasps looked as though they could score at ease, but they ended a fast and furious contest hanging on, such was the ferocity of Worcester’s recovery act. Ultimately, a losing bonus point might not be enough to save the Warriors’ skin, yet to take anything from a game that began in such hopelessly one-sided fashion deserved applause.
Worcester, with the clock ticking on their Guinness Premiership future, were reinforced by centre Sam Tuitupou and number eight Netani Talei making timely returns from injury. But they met an in-form Wasps side strengthened through England forwards Rees and Simon Shaw both starting after being on replacement duty against Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final opponents Gloucester last weekend.
There were still six internationals among the Wasps substitutes though, including England’s 2007 World Cup captain Phil Vickery, who last played in October before he was sidelined by a neck injury that required surgery. And it took Wasps just three minutes to open their account after a crisp counter-attack ended with England summer tour hopeful Waldouck powering over for a try that Cipriani converted.
Worcester could hardly have made a worse start, and there were further worrying signs when Shaw and number eight Dan Ward-Smith both made strong runs without the hint of a tackle being made. Worcester, driven by Tuitupou’s direct running, briefly rallied through a Walker penalty after wing Chris Pennell missed a long-range strike, but Wasps soon posted their second try.
Cipriani’s eagerness to move possession at every opportunity brought its reward after 19 minutes when he found Waldouck 30 metres out, and the centre weaved his way. And the opening quarter had barely elapsed when Waldouck was at it again, this time playing the role of creator as another jinking run ended with a supporting Rees taking his scoring pass.
Cipriani effortlessly converted from the touchline, and Worcester were in danger of being obliterated as Wasps’ scintillating attacking rugby matched the glorious West Midlands weather. Waldouck, who took a knock to his left ankle in scoring his first try, limped off 13 minutes before half-time, and Worcester immediately hit back when Sanderson was driven over from a close-range lineout.
Walker’s conversion brought it back to 21-10, yet Wasps should have collected a fourth try when lock George Skivington found an unmarked Tom Varndell. Skivington’s pass though, was two metres forward. A second Walker penalty then left Worcester just eight points adrift, and they ended a rollercoaster first-half camped on Wasps’ line in pursuit of another score.
A Cipriani penalty opened Wasps’ account in the second period, but Worcester refused to roll over, not even when Sanderson was forced off clutching his ribs. Vickery and his fellow England forward Joe Worsley were summoned from the bench to galvanise Wasps’ effort, but Worcester slashed the deficit to just four points, courtesy of Grove’s breakaway effort and a Walker conversion.
Wasps, having strolled through the first-half in complete control, now found themselves hanging on as Warriors sensed an astonishing victory. The Londoners were at sixes and sevens in their frantic attempts to close the game out, and referee Dean Richards’ final whistle arrived right on cue.