|Worcester (7) 21|
|Tries: Hearle, Simpson, Lawrence Cons: Williams 2, Searle|
|Exeter (22) 36|
|Tries: Simmonds, Capstick 2, Woodburn, Maunder Cons: Simmonds 4 Pens: Simmonds|
Crisis club Worcester Warriors made light of their ongoing survival issues as they gave Exeter Chiefs a real game before narrowly going down at Sixways.
The Chiefs ran in three first-half tries as they established a 22-7 lead.
Warriors rallied in the second half, twice coming to within eight points, but ultimately ran out of steam.
But, although showing immense spirit on the pitch in front of a reduced-capacity 4,999 crowd, who were certainly not reduced in noise and support, Worcester still face a real off-field battle to secure their immediate future.
Co-owner Jason Whittingham released another statement saying he believes the club will still have new owners – and investment – within the next 48 hours.
But it is not the first time he has said that, during the month of mayhem since Warriors were first threatened by HMRC with a winding-up petition over a £5m unpaid tax bill and the full extent of their financial worries were made clearer.
Warriors staff worked for free
Warriors still had take to the field in last season’s strip, with the game only able to go ahead thanks to club staff making sure it went on by working for free.
Those workers were twice shown massive support by the extremely enthusiastic crowd.
First, before the game, when dozens of Warriors staff were allowed to take to the pitch to form a guard of honour as the teams trooped out for a minute’s silence to remember Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, followed by the national anthem.
Then again, on 65 minutes, when they got to their feet to recognise that some have still only received 65% of their wages owed – and some have still received none.
But, while Warriors did at least meet Friday’s RFU deadline to get a safety certificate for the fixture to be allowed to go ahead, director of rugby Steve Diamond has still warned that they will not work for free any longer.
“It’s safe to say that the staff have said they’re not going to work after today if they’re not paid,” he told BBC Hereford & Worcester.
“I’ve been informed that negotiations are taking place behind the scenes but I’m not party to them. But we can’t keep going on the never-never. A decision has to be made and something has to give.
“There are limits to how many times players or staff can turn out on goodwill without being paid. It’s impossible for anyone to work without any internet and heating with winter around the corner.”
Warriors rallied after nightmare start
On a day when simply turning up to play was probably more important then the result, it looked ominous when Exeter scored in their first attack in only the second minute, when full-back Joe Simmonds went over wide out on the left in a three-on-one overlap.
Scottish prop Murray McCallum was lucky to escape a red card for his late challenge on Simmonds which connected with his head – but referee Matthew Carley ruled that the initial contact had come with his shoulder and warranted only a yellow.
It took until just before McCallum’s return to the pitch for Exeter to score again on 17 minutes when Harvey Skinner’s reverse pass allowed Jack Nowell to set up Richard Capstick’s score in the right corner.
But just six minutes later Ollie Lawrence created the platform for winger Alex Hearle to score wide out on the left – and the returning Owen Williams landed his first kick at Sixways in his first start since suffering a bad hamstring injury when he slipped while attempting a shot at goal 12 months ago.
That got Warriors back in touch at 12-7 but Exeter restored their 12-point lead nine minutes from the break when Capstick again went over on the right – and Simmonds again converted, before adding a penalty to stretch Exeter to 22-7 up by the break.
Warriors made a bright start straight after the restart when they got their second try, lock Joe Batley’s break down the left setting up scrum-half Gareth Simpson to score under the posts, allowing Williams to bring Warriors back to just 22-14 down.
But, having just had an effort chalked off two minutes earlier, Olly Woodburn this time went over unopposed in the left corner for Exeter’s bonus-point try.
Still Warriors were not done when they went over for a third try from England centre Lawrence, this time improved by Billy Searle.
But Jack Maunder went under the posts to settle it with Exeter’s fifth try, allowing Simmonds adding his fourth conversion.
Worcester director of rugby Steve Diamond told BBC Hereford & Worcester:
“I’m very proud as it was a huge-hearted performance but the players will still get a rollocking as we conceded 16 penalties, lost half our line-outs and scored from only three of our 10 incursions into their 22.
“Despite all the off-field hullabaloo, we need to be better than that. But I don’t know how long we can keep going with this.
“We are hoping to fulfil the fixture with Gloucester on Wednesday. We wanted to bring in a few loan players but at present we can’t afford to pay the RFU the appropriate sum.
“I’m hoping the money we’ve now taken in from this game can be used and not disappear down a black hole.”
Warriors skipper Francois Venter told BBC Hereford & Worcester:
“What’s going on in the background is mentally tough but hopefully it will get sorted.
“We still don’t know the position but it will be very upsetting if it’s our last game on this pitch.”
Exeter Chiefs head coach Ali Hepher:
“We knew the game would be tough as they would be very high on motivation.
“We did things right in the first half but we then went off-script before bouncing through it to get the tries when we needed them.
“Their crowd was fantastic. We hope things work out for them as we love coming here. It’s always a competitive game.”
Worcester: Shillcock; Humphreys, Lawrence, Venter (capt), Hearle; Williams, Simpson; Morozov, Langdon, McCallum, Batley, A Kitchener, Lee-Warner, Neild, Dodd.
Replacements: Faiva, Sutherland, Tyack, Kitchener, Kvesic, Chudley, Searle, Heward.
Exeter: J Simmonds; Nowell, O’Loughlin, Whitten, Woodburn; Skinner, Townsend; Hepburn, Yeandle (capt), Street, Dunne, Gray, Kirsten, Tshiunza, Capstick.
Replacements: Innard, Kenny, Schickerling, Van Heerden, Ewers, Maunder, Kata, Cordero
Referee: Matthew Carley.