Worcester snap five-game losing streak with victory over Bristol
Worcester ended a run of five successive Premiership defeats and gave Steve Diamond his first win in charge as they toppled Bristol 19-14 at Sixways.
Fly-half Fin Smith kicked two conversions, and it was another sobering night for Bristol a week after they conceded 49 points at home to London Irish.
But Vailanu’s 45th-minute try ultimately proved the difference as Bristol suffered a 10th league defeat of the campaign after they were Premiership title contenders last term.
Van Der Merwe returned from Scotland Six Nations duty for Worcester, while Bristol scrum-half Theo Strang made his first Premiership start, with his fellow number nines Harry Randall, Andy Uren and Tom Whiteley all unavailable.
A minute’s applause was held before kick-off in an emotional tribute to Evesham player Jack Jeffery, who was injured during a Midlands league game last weekend and later died in hospital.
His parents Glenn and Angi, twin brother Charlie and sister Daisy were at Sixways as guests of Worcester – the clubs are just 15 miles apart – while Evesham’s first-team squad lined up in front of Worcester and Bristol players for the minute’s applause.
The Warriors made a flying start, going ahead after just five minutes as Van Der Merwe underlined his world-class quality.
Full-back Jemie Shillcock was the creator, kicking superbly into space before Van Der Merwe showcased blistering pace and gathered possession on the bounce to score, before Smith’s touchline conversion opened up a seven-point lead.
Bristol were rocked back on their heels by Worcester’s accuracy, which was underlined by a number of handling errors as they looked to work their way into the contest.
But Worcester had no intention of losing momentum, and Vailanu’s surge into the heart of Bristol’s defence drew in tacklers, then quickly recycled ball allowed Beck a simple finish, and Smith again converted.
It was a miserable opening quarter for the visitors, yet the response they required soon arrived as skipper Luatua barged his way over to claim a consolation try, with Sheedy’s conversion halving the deficit.
Bristol now had momentum, and they struck again just three minutes later through another close-range effort as Lahiff scored and Sheedy’s conversion tied things up at 14-14.
It proved the final scoring act of a richly-entertaining half highlighted by both sides’ admirable attacking intent.
Worcester enjoyed a dominant opening to the second period, with scrum-half Gareth Simpson and wing Perry Humphreys combining impressively, then Vailanu smashed through attempted tackles from Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd for a try that put Warriors back in front.
Bristol lost Luatua and centre Piers O’Conor to injuries midway through the third quarter, then wing Jack Bates departed after he was yellow-carded by referee Wayne Barnes for a deliberate knock-on.
And Bristol’s scrum-half woes continued when loan signing Toby Venner, who went on for Strang, limped off, meaning that full-back Lloyd took over in that position.
Worcester could see the finishing line, and they reached it despite late Bristol pressure that was nullified by a superb tackle deep inside his own half from Warriors substitute Billy Searle.
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