Newcastle Falcons have allowed themselves to be dragged into another relegation battle after a turgid 80 minutes saw them slump to their worst Premiership run.
A 12th league defeat in a row, against a side winless in the competition for more than a year, leaves the Falcons still in danger of the drop and without a Premiership victory to speak of in five months.
A game bereft of any quality or entertainment value was decided by the only try on 71 minutes when a missed tackle allowed Worcester replacement Andy Symons to race 40 metres and offload to Josh Drauniniu in scoring position, the former England Sevens international giving his side an unlikely lifeline in the battle for top-flight survival.
The upshot is a reduction in the gap at the bottom of the league to nine points with four games left to play. Newcastle are still strong favourites to stay up but need to show more than the unimaginitive and uninspiring fare served up to an increasingly disapproving audience.
Director of rugby Dean Richards did not even attempt to defend it, saying afterwards: “I don’t think we’ll be seeing that in any ‘100 greatest games’ compilations’.
“I didn’t think it was a particularly good game to be honest.
“When you look at it there was not a great deal of ambition shown by either side and a lucky try by them probably sealed it when we missed a tackle and the guy went through.
“That could have happened both ways, when you look at it. We had opportunities to score, didn’t quite take them – Worcester had two and managed to take one. It was disappointing from that side of things, but it was not a good game in any way, shape or form.”
The Falcons boss was right not to try and dress this one up, the league’s bottom two teams playing to their billing and producing risk-averse rugby by a mixture of shoddy skill levels and the constraining pressure of relegation. Drauniniu’s try aside, it was essentially a question of who could send up the most box-kicks and concede the least number of penalties.
There seemed no separating the two teams on that score at 12-12 with nine minutes to go, the Falcons 9-6 up at the break as Phil Godman slotted what points were available to him from the kicking tee.
The veteran Scot again operated so far behind the gain-line Worcester’s defence was never seriously threatened, Sinoti Sinoti the only serious danger with ball in hand as the Samoan wing put in a series of leg-pumping runs.
Two long-range penalties from full-back Chris Pennell and a further pair from stand-off Ryan Lamb kept Worcester in the contest, the Falcons reserving much of their limited adventure for the second half when George McGuigan and James Fitzpatrick at least added an element of umph to their ball-carrying.
“I think they felt the pressure a little bit, and as a consequence of that pressure inaccuracies crept into our game,” said Richards, whose opposite number Dean Ryan was far more upbeat.
A Premiership title winner at Kingston Park as a Newcastle player in 1998, the former England back-rower said “of course we can” when asked if his Warriors can pull off what seemed an unthinkable escape act. He said: “We always knew we had to win at Newcastle and had we not done that I would be struggling to answer your question. We have to win again and get a bonus point from somewhere to have a chance of taking it into the last weekend and things go weird on that last weekend.”
The season’s final day on May 10 has Worcester hosting Gloucester and Newcastle at home to Exeter, the Warriors travelling to both Saracens and Bath during a run-in which sees Exeter visiting Sixways a week on Saturday.
Newcastle have Saracens and the Chiefs at home as well as London Irish and London Wasps away. Ryan admitted: “We know we have to pull off a miracle somewhere, but you never know. We are not pretending we are a top-six side or any rubbish like that, but we are a strong group and that is not a bad starting point. It would be a messy old season if we just stumbled through, but we want to fight.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait (J Fitzpatrick, 45), T Catterick, G Tiesi (captain), D Barnes, S Sinoti, P Godman (J Hodgson, 63), W Fury; R Vickers, S Lawson (G McGuigan 40), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 71), S MacLeod, F McKenzie, M Wilson, A Saull, C York (R Mayhew, 71).
Falcons scorers – Penalties: P Godman 4.
WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Pennell, J Draniniu, A Grove (A Symons, 64), R Fatiaki, M Stelling, R Lamb (I Mieres, 77), J Arr; O Fainga’anuku (P Andrew, 48), A Creevy (E Shervington, 48), R O’Donnell, J Percival, M Galarza, M Williams (S Taulava, 54), S Betty (R de Carpentier, 68), J Thomas (captain).
Worcester scorers – Tries: J Drauniniu. Penalties: C Pennell 2, R Lamb 2.
Referee: T Wigglesworth. Attendance: 4,411.