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The Diamond era in charge at Worcester begins in losing fashion

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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The Steve Diamond era at Worcester began in losing fashion at Sixways as Northampton recorded a 29-13 Gallagher Premiership victory. Ex-Sale Sharks boss Diamond, currently working as Worcester’s lead rugby consultant, will succeed Alan Solomons in the post of Warriors rugby director this summer.

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Head coach Jonathan Thomas departed the club earlier this week, but Diamond can take considerable encouragement from a battling second-half performance that produced tries for prop Rory Sutherland and centre Ashley Beck.

Saints, who remain firmly in play-off contention, cruised clear through tries by centre Rory Hutchinson, hooker Sam Matavesi and scrum-half Alex Mitchell, with Wales captain Dan Biggar kicking two conversions and a penalty.

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Northampton led 22-3 before the Warriors revival and Saints had to wait until ten minutes from time before they could claim a bonus-point triumph when substitute hooker James Fish scored their fourth try and Biggar converted.

Scotland prop Sutherland returned for Worcester after serving a suspension imposed following his sending-off against Bath three weeks ago, while Sutherland’s Test teammate Duhan van der Merwe also started after recovering from illness.

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Centre Fraser Dingwall captained Northampton for the first time in a Premiership game, with Biggar and Scotland centre Hutchinson featuring ahead of next weekend’s Guinness Six Nations kick-off. A scrappy opening 15 minutes ended scoreless, although Worcester looked marginally more threatening in attack as van der Merwe roamed off his wing, probing for midfield gaps.

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Northampton successfully absorbed a spell of Worcester pressure and then struck from their first attack as they drove a lineout before possession found its way to Hutchinson, who cut back inside and touched down.

Biggar converted as Saints moved seven points clear and while Fin Smith opened Worcester’s account through a short-range penalty, Warriors then saw wing Perry Humphreys sin-binned by referee Ian Tempest for a deliberate knock-on.

Smith was forced off injured twelve minutes before half-time, which meant Wales international Owen Williams making a first appearance since tearing his hamstring almost four months ago. And Worcester’s injury woes continued when lock Andrew Kitchener followed Smith in making an early exit, as Justin Clegg replaced him.

Kitchener had barely left the action before Saints struck again after good close-quarter work by their forwards enabled Matavesi to claim their second try. Northampton had control of the contest as the interval approached and they claimed a third try when the ever-alert Mitchell darted clear in midfield and enjoyed a 30-metre unopposed run to the line.#

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Biggar converted and Northampton were in charge at the break, leading 19-3 and needing one more try for a bonus point. Biggar opened the second-half scoring through a 44th-minute penalty but Worcester still had their moments, notably a thrilling 40-metre surge by van der Merwe that required a fearless Mitchell tackle to halt him.

It set up a strong attacking position, though, and Worcester’s forwards rumbled over, with Sutherland awarded the score as Northampton’s advantage was cut to 14 points. Worcester then looked like they might score again two minutes later after skipper Ted Hill broke clear, only for Saints wing Ollie Sleightholme to pull off a try-saving tackle.

But Northampton were pinned inside their own half and Worcester made further in-roads with 16 minutes remaining when Beck marked his 50th Warriors appearance by collecting a fine try. Saints needed to regroup and they did so impressively as Fish’s touchdown and another Biggar conversion made the game safe.

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