Change is a hurdle in life that many have to clamber over. For some, change is welcomed with open arms, yet for others, change is a test that regularly isn’t overcome. Sport is continually changing, whether that be through technological progressions, injury research or simply, the changing of coaching or management.
In order for teams to maximise their success on the field, it’s crucial that you change effectively, to push yourself as professional athletes and get the results on the field. Worcester are certainly one of those teams who haven’t yet conquered the hurdle of change.
It’s been a sticky old ride at the bottom this year for Ryan’s Warriors, who have regularly fallen agonisingly short of a crucial Premiership victory. With a season that promised so much, from a fan’s perspective, it has certainly been an emotional rollercoaster. Regular change has been an influential factor in Worcester’s failure to push the top sides of England’s elite, having had failure with the likes of Richard Hill and Mike Ruddock at the helm, Worcester have never really seen continued success or coaching since 2007. Having had some top-class coaching pedigree in the form of Phil Davies, Mathieu Rourre and Nigel Redman, it seems that a change of techniques and attitudes has failed to produce a winning Worcester side. However, after Chairman Duckworth and co. looked to the stern, intelligent head of Dean Ryan to help turn Worcester’s losing jinx around, they are still yet to qualify for European rugby, and may even see themselves playing Championship rugby next season.
Yet, recent performances have proven that change at the top is undoubtedly having the desired effects. The evidence of Ryan and co.’s impact was certainly evident against Leicester back in February when, even though slightly weakened, the Tigers only just came out on top 23-22 in front of a more invigorated Sixways crowd. With the help of Ryan Lamb pulling the strings at Fly Half, the Warriors have shown an attacking spark that has threatened some of the leagues top sides. After a neat little show and go from replacement Andy Symons that set up Drauniniu for a game changing try against Falcons in the backend of March, the fight to stay up seemed all but over. Even though Worcester have yet to notch up another victory since then, a gritty fight back against the Chiefs and try bonus-point away at the beautifully situated Rec has made the season a little more bearable. Although Ryan has begun a large overhaul of players for next year, the changing of the management has possibly, hopefully been a large step in the right direction.
Perhaps the most inspiring story of the season has been the performances of a few key players, especially that of the formidable Full Back, Chris Pennell. Having interviewed Chris earlier on in this season, I thought he defined perfectly the role that Ryan, Hogg and team have played and will continue play to ensure future top-flight rugby-
‘It has been a tough start but without doubt there will be better times to come. Dean and the other coaches were never going to create an instant fix but what they are doing is beginning to shape things for future success. We’ve got a huge amount of knowledge for us to tap into as players but ultimately to be successful, we know its going to take a lot of hard work. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, unless you are constantly striving to improve as players, you will never move on from where you currently stand.’
Pennell has gone on to have a season of note and deservedly has been nominated for Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season. Still leading the way in carries (253) and metres made (1527), Pennell has not only shown an attacking edge going forward, he has also regularly been called upon with the boot. With the likes of Josh Drauniniu and Bristol bound David Lemi also creating issues for the opposition out wide, hopefully these performances are the evidence of Ryan’s influence.
Never say die
This Saturday is Worcester’s last shot at survival and rather fittingly, if they were to win, it would perhaps be the biggest shock of the season.
After a wondrous performance by underdogs Saracens against Clermont last weekend, it seemed likely that Mark McCall would make an array of changes to the starting team, in light of both the Premiership Semi and Heineken Cup Final around the corner. However, it seems the Director of Rugby wants winning ways to remain with the London club, a prospect of which most Warriors fans and Ryan I’m sure, maybe a little worried about.
If Saracens can maintain such a wonderful pressing defence that put pressure on the 10 and 13 channel of James and Stanley respectively last Saturday and can bring the likes of Ashton, Brits and Strettle into the game, it will be a tough for Worcester to contain them. Everyone knows that an Owen Farrell playing with confidence, on the front foot, is as dangerous as any and it will be the job of Mike Williams and Sam Betty to upset Farrell’s game management.
From Worcester’s perspective, good discipline and a sound set-piece is always key. If they can keep the penalty count to a minimum and build continuity through the big carries of Creevy and others, Worcester could sneak a few scores to keep their hopes of a great escape alive.
Whatever happens, with names such as Tom Biggs, Sam Smith, and GJ Van Velze joining the gold and blues next season, positive change and success is surely on the cards.