With 2020 now having arrived, here is the final part of the Rugby Pass 15 for 10 series – a look at Worcester Warriors.
The club have faced a tough decade, not only on the pitch where they have been relegated in an annual battle at the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership but also in terms of retaining their players as a number of ‘bigger’ clubs have swooped for some of Worcester’s best talents. Thankfully, that seems as if it is a trend in reverse now.
A strong 2019/20 campaign is helping the club end the decade on a high and the core of a more competitive squad is being formed. We look back at some of the players that have helped the Warriors get to that position in the Premiership.
- Chris Pennell
One of the club’s most dedicated servants, Pennell has been with Worcester since 2007 and is closing in on 250 appearances for his hometown team. His consistency for and loyalty to Worcester should be celebrated, especially as a move to a team at the other end of the table could well have seen him feature more regularly for England.
- Bryce Heem
Both Miles Benjamin and Marcel Garvey had longer and more influential stints at the club during the 2000s, although their impact in this decade was limited by early departures. Heem, on the other hand, played a Christian Wade-like role for Worcester and even when they were outmanned, he was a constant threat to score, or at least make something happen, from anywhere on the pitch.
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- Alex Grove
Wynand Olivier made his presence felt later in the decade, although it’s tough to leave out as committed a performer for the club as Grove. The Scottish international, like Pennell, was another to stick with the club through tough times and was unlucky not to win more than the three Scotland caps he did.
- Ryan Mills
What a signing Mills has been for Worcester. Injuries disrupted his early years at Gloucester but since making the move to Sixways he has been arguably one of the standout players in the Premiership over that period. His name is frequently brought up in England conversation, particularly when the topic turns to move Owen Farrell to ten and trying to fill the vacant spot at inside centre.
- Josh Adams
Mentions for Tom Biggs and Sam Smith, though Adams’ impact at Worcester was significant. Alongside Heem, the Welshman formed a clinical pairing on the wing and the duo frequently kept Worcester in games that they would otherwise have been left behind in. Many of the losing and try bonus points that kept Worcester safe in recent years came down to Adams and Heem.
- Duncan Weir
One of the big differences between those seasons when the club were battling against relegation and this one where they have pushed up the table has been the stabilising presence of Weir. The Scottish fly-half has come in and improved Worcester’s tactical play and game management, as well as proving conducive to their more ambitious moments with the ball in hand.
- Francois Hougaard
A special mention for Jonny Arr for his years of service to the club, but Hougaard is one of the more influential players in the entire Premiership and his arrival from the Bulls in 2016 was a real coup. His vision for space and acceleration around the fringes is usually good for two or three breaks a game, while he is also able to alleviate pressure with an effective kicking game.
- Val Rapava-Ruskin
The Tbilisi native just sees off the final few years of Matt Mullan’s stint at the club, as Rapava-Ruskin began to earn England chatter during his time at Sixways despite the club’s frequently precarious league position. Injuries have prevented him from having quite the same impact so far at Gloucester and the loosehead’s best seasons to date came at Worcester.
- Agustin Creevy
USA international Joe Taufete’e and Aleki Lutui both have valid claims, though Creevy just edges ahead of them, with his willingness to stay with the club in the Greene King IPA Championship particularly noteworthy. The Argentine captain proclaimed himself as one of the best players at his position in the world when he left Worcester to return home to play for the Jaguares.
- Nick Schonert
Another player to have warranted significant England conversations while he has been at Worcester, Schonert has been a stabilising force in the Warriors’ set-piece over the past five years. Having already qualified for England, his status as an EQP only adds to his value at Worcester as the club have lost a number of their homegrown academy products over the past decade.
- Craig Gillies
One of the few players to have made more appearances for Worcester than Pennell, Gillies’ time at Worcester came to an end in 2013 and although the majority of his time at the club came in the previous decade, he still provided the club with plenty of positives from 2010 to 2013.
- Donncha O’Callaghan
A number of other locks deserve mention, including Will Spencer, James Percival and Darren Barry, although O’Callaghan is another who can be grouped in with Heem, Adams and Hougaard as having been influential in keeping Worcester in the Premiership. The veteran Irishman provided much-needed leadership in the pack and the fresh environment seemed to turn back the clock and provide him with a new lease of life.
- Mike Williams
Mentions for Marco Mama and Neil Best, but perhaps no player reached the heights during this decade that Williams did. It ultimately earned him lucrative moves to Leicester Tigers and Bath. He was at his most impactful during his time at Worcester, though, where his powerful ball-carrying and tackling proved decisive plenty of times.
- Matt Kvesic
One of the harder calls in this XV, Sam Lewis has run Kvesic all the way and you could make valid claims for either player. Kvesic left for Gloucester in order to further his claims for an England jersey and although that move didn’t work out quite as well as he would have liked, it does not diminish the breakdown influence he was able to wield at Sixways, with fans up and down the country proclaiming him as Neil Back’s true successor at openside.
- Gerrit-Jan van Velze
With Leonardo Senatore, Phil Dowson and Kai Horstmann, Worcester have not lacked for influential No8s, but van Velze’s impact largely goes under the radar. The South African has been a stabilising presence for Warriors at the base of the scrum and while he may not be as dynamic as the likes of Billy Vunipola or Zach Mercer, his consistency cannot be questioned.
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