A brace of tries from skipper Ben Nutley brought the Wanderers back from from behind at the Gardens and into a home Aviva ‘A’ League semi-final on a sodden Monday evening.
They had trailed 13-3 at the break having played second fiddle to Worcester for much of the first half, but that lead proved too slender, even though a quartet of Wandies tries were chalked off by the officials in a one-sided affair thereafter.
An early bout of Worcester pressure allowed Ryan Lamb to thrice go for the corner and while Ravai Fatiaki spurned an overlap on the left, moments later Mat Gilbert shoved his way over from the side of a solid lineout drive.
It was far from the ideal start for the hosts and they fell further behind when Lamb added a penalty to his conversion of Gilbert’s try. In between a long range attempt had gone begging for JJ Hanrahan and soon after a searing break from Tom Collins ended with a disappointing mistimed pass.
But the Wanderers stuck to their task and working hard during their time without the ball bore fruit, Hanrahan smashing opposite number Lamb to the deck and then guiding over a penalty earned by the support in black, green and gold.
That opener seemed to settle the hosts but while they spent a couple of minutes battering away at the Cavaliers’ line, they were soon thankful not to concede again when Worcester screeched clear with turnover ball, only to knock on with the line at their mercy.
The lead would still grow before the break, however, Lamb firing over another penalty, but having applied much of the pressure in the opening 40 Worcester would find themselves with their backs to the wall as the second began.
First a five-metre scrum went against the head and a couple of penalties to the corner sandwiched Dan Sanderson’s yellow card. The second also produced a huge lineout drive up to and over the line and for the third time in eight days it was Ben Nutley who rose with the ball in his grasp.
The set piece was turning the screw and when James Fish again found his man in the line, Sam Olver fought his way through to level the game, or so the Gardens thought. The officials had other ideas and the decision instead went Worcester’s way for obstruction off the ball.
The Wanderers weren’t going anywhere though and after Ben Howard joined Sanderson on the sidelines for taking Jamie Elliott out dangerously in the air, they fashioned another chance.
For the second time in five minutes they breached the whitewash, too, but again the score was ruled out, this time for Lewis Ludlam’s double movement. They would have the consolation of another Hanrahan penalty moments later though and finally went ahead thanks to another mauled try for their captain.
While their utter domination of the second half warranted the lead, it was still a slender one, so a quick return to the visiting 22 was a welcome one.
Two more efforts were ruled out in quick succession - Collins knocking on over the line and Nutley denied a hat-trick – but for Worcester there was no way out and the Wanderers comfortably held on.
Victory sealed top spot in the Northern Conference and a home semi-final against either Saracens or Exeter, who complete their schedule next Monday evening. The game is due to take place on Monday, April 25th, with exact details to be announced once the playoff line-up is confirmed.
10mins WORCS Try Gilbert Con Lamb 0-7
14mins WAND Miss pen Hanrahan
23mins WORCS Pen Lamb 0-10
27mins WAND Pen Hanrahan 3-10
40+3mins WORCS Pen Lamb 3-13
HALF-TIME WAND 3 WORCS 13
52mins WORCS Yellow Sanderson
53mins WAND Try Nutley 8-13
59mins WORCS Yellow Hammond
65mins WAND Pen Hanrahan 11-13
71mins WORCS Yellow Lamb
72mins WAND Try Nutley 16-13
FULL-TIME WAND 16 WORCS 13
WANDERERS Wilson; Elliott, Hutchinson, Olver, Collins; Hanrahan, Kessell; Waller, Fish, Denman, Onojaife, Moon, Paterson, Ludlum, Nutley
Rayment, Beesley, Parkins, Peters, Cardall, Duchesne, Furbank, Packman
WORCESTER Howard; Hammond, Short, Fatiaki, Humphreys; Lamb, Mulchrone; Bower, Singleton, Rees, Sanderson, O'Shea, Gilbert, Ripper-Smith, Taylor
Sowrey, Appiah, Page, Dodd, Hewitt, Bruzulier, Shillcock, Adams
REFEREE James Clarke