Worcester 13-12 Northampton: Warriors enjoy dream return to the top flight
Tom Heathcote kicks an injury-time drop-goal as Worcester beat Northampton
Last time Warriors were in the top flight they took until March to win a game
Tom Heathcote kicked a late drop goal as promoted Worcester enjoyed a dream start to life back in the Premiership, pulling off a remarkable 13-12 win over last year’s minor premiers, Northampton Saints, at Sixways on Friday night.
After Northampton raced into a 6-0 lead courtesy of two Stephen Myler penalties, Worcester battled back, Heathcote with a penalty before captain GJ van Velze stormed in for a try on the half hour mark, Heathcote converting to hand the Warriors a 10-6 interval lead.
Myler then notched an early second half penalty, closing the gap a single point at 10-9 before the late, late drama.
Myler kicked a fourth goal with minutes left, making it 12-10 to the lackluster visitors before Heathcote struck decisively with the final kick of the game to send the home fans into raptures.
On the Premiership’s opening night, the fixture computer paired together two sides at majorly different ends of the Premiership spectrum, with the Championship’s second-placed side last year hosting the Premiership’s 2014/15 league leaders.
And the difference between the sides was apparent early on, as Saints took advantage of the hosts’ inexperience to fly into a 6-0 lead after just six minutes.
The home side were firmly on the rack, but halved the deficit five minutes later as Heathcote hammered over a penalty, making it 6-3 after some enterprising play from Dean Ryan’s men.
Their confidence was notably lifted and, led by the energetic Tom Biggs, a period of ferocious defence followed as the visitors threw all they could skipper van Velze and co. But their efforts came to nothing and it was the Warriors who would go on the score next.
Against the run of play, van Velze was in the right place at the right time, trundling in on the right flank after a searing team break. Heathcote improved to make it 10-6.
They could have been further ahead, but the half time whistle halted a stunning period of pressure, allowing Jimmies off the hook.
The 2014 Champions were refreshed after the break and, with Jim Mallinder’s words still ringing in their ears, they enjoyed a positive start to the second period.
Myler instigated something of a fightback on 43 minutes with his third penalty of the night, before Heathcote missed an ambitious penalty of his own a matter of seconds later.
With the fervent hosts holding a slender advantage, a tense atmosphere descended on Sixfields as both sides looked for a breakthrough.
A quick succession of penalties for Worcester brought a break in play just after the hour, but Ryan Mills and Heathcote, twice, fell short with their efforts, meaning one-point remained the only difference between the sides with the final ten minutes approaching.
Tensions threatened to boil over as the final whistle approached, but, in dramatic circumstances, Northampton went ahead; Myler making it four from four to hand the visitors a 12-10 lead with 90 seconds to play.
A short kick off from Worcester was claimed by the visitors and the writing looked to be on the wall as Saints began to wind down the clock. But, under pressure, a fumble fell the way of the hosts, handing them a late chance to take the spoils with under a minute left.
And they took it.
A fine set of drives set up almost perfect field position for the home side and it was the 23-year-old Heathcote who took full advantage, showing immense composure to slot over a stunning drop goal from range to bring the curtain down on a remarkable evening of action and help the promoted underdogs kick off their season in style.
Man of the Match: Tom Heathcote (Worcester Warriors)
The Scotland fly-half had his off moments, but was a constant threat will ball in hand while defending manfully throughout. Despite wasting a number of chances with the boot, the plucky 23-year-old kept his composure when it mattered.