Andy Goode’s second-half try was enough for Worcester Warriors as they edged past Sale Sharks 23-16 in a thrilling encounter at Sixways.
In a match that ebbed one way and then the other it was the Warriors fly-half, combining with scrum-half Paul Hodgson, who produced the decisive score.
The result was cruel on Sale, who were a lot better than their bottom place in the Aviva Premiership would indicate.
Prior to the game Richard Hill had made the big decision to leave out Warriors skipper Dean Schofield in the second row, Craig Gillies getting the nod instead.
The Sharks meanwhile entered the game having recorded their first win of the season a fortnight ago against the Cardiff Blues but still in search of an Aviva Premiership success.
And despite an early first-half try from Mark Cueto, and Nick Macleod’s second-half effort, the Sharks had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Worcester made the perfect start as Goode slotted an early penalty to give the Warriors a 3-0 lead after just two minutes.
Sale hit back almost straightaway with a try from Cueto. Former All Black centre Sam Tuitupou broke through the Warriors’ defensive line and the Sharks executed the overlap perfectly to send Cueto over in the corner.
The Warriors responded immediately as David Seymour was penalised at the breakdown and Goode made no mistake to make it 6-5.
Worcester weren’t in front for long as Danny Cipriani slotted his first kick of the day to move the Sharks back ahead.
A misfiring lineout was making life very difficult for the Warriors with hooker Aleki Lutui struggling to hit his jumpers in the first half despite the absence of Scotland second row Richie Gray.
It needed a moment of magic to turn the momentum and it was Samoan winger David Lemi who provided it with a sensational run.
The diminutive flyer danced his way out of host of tackles to race over, leaving Sale full-back Macleod for dead in the process, Goode’s conversion extending their lead to 13-8.
Warriors fly-half Goode added another penalty as Worcester were stopped just short of a second try but the home side still led by eight points at the break.
Early in the second half Worcester were penalised just outside their own 22 and Cipriani knocked over the penalty to reduce the arrears to 16-11.
While Sale continued to put pressure on the Warriors, the home defence stayed strong, the Sharks eventually conceded a penalty to allow Goode to relieve the pressure.
However another lost ball at a lineout from Worcester gave Sale back the ball and after a steal and break from prop Ross Harrison, the ball was spread to Macleod go over on the right. Cipriani’s missed conversion left the scores deadlocked at 16-16.
In the Warriors’ first positive attack of the second half, the impressive Hodgson spotted a gap down the blind side and fed Goode to score in the corner. The fly-half capped off the try with a difficult conversion to stretch the lead to seven.
Sale appeared to have levelled things soon after only for James Gaskell to be called back for a forward pass.
With time running out the Sharks piled on the pressure at the death but after a series of scrums in front of the Worcester posts Will Addison dropped the ball over the line under the pressure of Hodgson’s tackle to deny the visitors in the cruellest of fashions.