The Saints finished pre-season on a high, Ethan Waller’s last-minute try rounding off a remarkable comeback win at Franklin’s Gardens. At the hour mark Worcester had led by 20 points, but imagination, ambition and fitness from the hosts told in the end.
Saints had some promising possession in the opening minutes, working some space on the right, but it was Worcester who got the first points, making the most of a couple of penalties in quick succession to set up a maul close to the home line and drive Sam Lewis over for the score.
Worcester had brought a strong side to the Gardens, and their experience up front told soon afterwards in a defensive context, winning the ball back against the throw five metres from their own line.
The rest of the quarter belonged to the visitors, who repeatedly set up camp on Saints’ line. Even when the hosts did get the opportunity to clear they could not make the most of it, winning a penalty but dropping the subsequent lineout on halfway.
However the closest the Warriors came to another try in this period was prop Val Rapava Ruskin being held up over the line, and instead they took points from Tom Heathcote’s right boot with 17 minutes gone.
But Worcester’s dominance was rewarded shortly afterwards. A bit of luck in the build-up - two linnets in quick succession having seemed to drift off-line - gave the platform for Chris Pennell to make a break from halfway. Although the full back was stopped superbly by Pat Howard the visitors still had a five-metre scrum, and a couple of phases later GJ Van Velze was over.
Saints’ best spell of the first half came just before the half-hour, Teimana Harrison making a great break and forwards and backs showing some superb handling to get over the gain line. So it was unfortunate to see Ben Nutley take his eye off the ball while running from deep towards Worcester’s five-metre line and a couple of linnets be overthrown.
For their part Worcester butchered a certain try, Ryan Mills ignoring three unmarked men outside him deep in Saints territory. The hosts’ defensive shape returned rapidly to hold the visitors out, but while they sprang back to set up camp at the other end of the field Worcester’s own blue line was too strong to cross, despite Harrison’s best efforts, and Saints went into the break still frustrated.
This frustration continued in the opening phases of the second half as Saints could not capitalise on JJ Hanrahan’s scything break through the visitors’ midfield. But they remained patient, and after a Hanrahan Garryowen was recovered well by Howard on the right wing play was worked left, Howard Packman made the extra man and Ahsee Tuala fed Ben Nutley in the final two-on-one situation for the try.
This had been a good finish, but Worcester showed their skills six minutes later, Mills atoning for his earlier mistake by sending over Ben Howard with a slick pass on the left wing. And there was more to come just before the hour, Darren O’Shea picking his moment perfectly to intercept a Hanrahan pass just as Saints were starting to build up a head of steam to outpace the defence from long range all the way to the corner.
Then it was time for Saints to miss a golden chance. Tom Stephenson did all the hard work by spotting space and exploiting it, only to run away from the supporting Matti Williams. But again they remained patient, Ethan Waller powering through the defence to score by the uprights. And when Worcester’s Howard was sent to the sin bin Saints’ Howard made the most of the extra man to go over in the left corner.
Now on the wing, the South African was having an increasing influence, and after his pass inside after another strong break was batted straight into touch Saints kicked to the corner and set up a drive to create space for Alex Mitchell to dive over.
Sam Olver added the extras to make it a one point ball game with just seven minutes to play, and when good hands from Luke Eves put George Furbank away up the left wing another score looked in the offing, especially with Howard there in support.
But the youngster’s inexperience showed as he held onto the ball instead of chipping into the space and got turned over in the tackle. The penalty this brought was followed swiftly by another, which Worcester kicked to the corner, but that inspired the best move of the match.
The overthrow was won back by Nutley, and Barbarians-style handling from the backline swiftly saw the ball in Packman’s hands. The winger’s chip sailed frustratingly straight into touch, and for a minute it looked like Saints’ chance had gone.
But they did not let up, and after Worcester fumbled in midfield Sion Bennett’s charge set up a final attack. Nutley went close, the rest of the pack even closer, and it fell to Waller to crash over for the match-winning score.
Pre-season is done and dusted and the Saints will be in Aviva Premiership action next weekend! Tickets are now available for all home matches up until Christmas - head to www.northamptonsaints.co.uk/buytickets and follow the straightforward instructions.
SAINTS Tuala; Packman, Howard, Stephenson. Collins; Hanrahan, Kessell; Corbisiero, Haywood (capt), Denman, Woolford, Onojaife, Paterson, Nutley, Harrison
Subs - Williams, E Waller, Hill, Moon, Marshall, Bennett, Mitchell, Olver, Eves, Hutchinson, Furbank
WORCESTER Pennell; Humphreys, Olivier, Mills, Biggs; Heathcote, Arr; Ruskin, Annett, Schonert, O’Callaghan, Barry, Dowson, Lewis, Van Velze (capt)
Subs - Sowrey, Leleimalefaga, Rees, O’Shea, Cox, Mama, Mulchrone, Lamb, Grove, Stelling, Howard
REFEREE Matthew Carley
4mins WORCS Try Lewis 0-5
17mins WORCS Pen Heathcote 0-8
22mins WORCS Try Van Velze Con Heathcote 0-15
25mins SAINTS Miss pen Hanrahan
HALF-TIME SAINTS 0 WORCESTER 15
47mins SAINTS Try Nutley Con Hanrahan 7-15
53mins WORCS Try Howard Con Lamb 7-22
58mins WORCS Try O’Shea 7-27
62mins SAINTS Try Waller Con Olver 14-27
63mins WORCS Yellow card Howard (not rolling away)
67mins SAINTS Try Howard 19-27
71mins SAINTS Try Mitchell Con Olver 26-27
78mins SAINTS Try Waller Con Olver 33-27
FULL-TIME SAINTS 33 WORCESTER 27