Alberto Di Bernardo inspired Leeds Carnegie to a momentous victory which lifted them off the bottom of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP and encouraged hopes that relegation may not be the foregone conclusion many are predicting.
The Argentinian, who proved himself to be the best fly-half in National League One last term with Cornish Pirates, had missed the last three games due to a hand injury sustained on his Leeds debut against Gloucester last month.
Having been passed fit to reclaim the number 10 shirt, Di Bernardo’s educated boot and playmaking skills guided the Yorkshiremen around the field.
In addition to landing two drop-goals, a penalty and a conversion, the 27-year-old produced a delightful piece of skill which handed skipper Stuart Hooper the crucial opening try on the stroke of half-time.
Outside centre Jonny Hepworth eclipsed Di Bernardo shortly before the hour mark, though, collecting possession on the edge of his own 22 before embarking on an exhilarating run which saw him outstrip the visiting defence and cross the line for a brilliant individual effort.
And when full-back Jon Goodridge capitalised on a dreadful error from the Worcester back line to touch down for a third try in the 64th minute, Leeds were left to celebrate their first Premiership win since they beat the same opponents 21-15 on February 24, 2006.
That Leeds have found life tough back in the top flight is undeniable, and they were forced to live on their nerves when Worcester claimed two tries in the last two minutes to cut the gap to five points.
But they held on for a success which was rapturously received on all four sides of Headingley and which will pour confidence into Stuart Lancaster’s men.
Having gone agonisingly close to registering victory at Newcastle last week, losing 21-19 despite leading 19-18 in the closing stages of the game, this victory suggested Leeds are slowly acclimatising the demands of the GUINNESS PREMERSHIP.
Beating a second-bottom Worcester at home was a must for Leeds – even at this early stage in the season – and they did not disappoint.
Warriors full-back Shane Drahm set the tone for a disjointed display from the visitors when he skewed an attempted drop-goal wide of the posts.
However, in the fifth minute he got Worcester off the mark with a penalty and Leeds’ hopes suffered another blow in the 13th minute when Hooper’s late and high tackle on Drahm earned him a place in the sin-bin.
Yet Di Bernardo was already beginning to exert his authority on proceedings with a stream of probing kicks which gave Leeds the field position from which to build.
And in the 20th minute Leeds number 8 Mark Lock fed the fly-half from a scrum and Di Bernardo executed a drop-goal from 25 metres to draw his side level.
Three minutes later, an excellent penalty conversion edged the hosts 6-3 ahead but he then erred with another penalty and a drop-goal attempt.
In the 40th minute, however, he showed brilliant technique to chip forward and race on to collect his own kick ahead of Drahm before spotting Hooper racing alongside him in support.
A sublime offload allowed the Leeds skipper to touch down but Drahm had the final say of the first half when he landed a penalty moments later.
The Worcester full-back cut the gap further by adding another penalty in the 53rd minute but Hepworth’s outstanding effort gave Leeds some much-needed respite.
And Goodridge’s try six minutes later proved crucial – Di Bernardo failed with both conversion attempts – when Loki Crichton scuttled over with 10 minutes remaining.
Leeds then lost Rob Rawlinson to the sin-bin in the closing stages and were living on their nerves when James Powell crossed for a try which Drahm converted to give Worcester a bonus point.