After avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth for three consecutive campaigns, Alan Solomons faces a tough task to keep his Worcester Warriors side in the Gallagher Premiership amid a mounting charge from the revived Bristol Bears.
Last Season: Worcester only confirmed their top-flight status in the penultimate game, after an atrocious start to the season, losing their first six matches. In truth, their survival was mainly due to a strong back-line which was able to put points on the board with ease – a useful quality for a struggling team.
Strengths: As aforementioned, Worcester’s attacking force meant they could always pose a threat against stronger teams, while they were able to make Sixways a fortress. Any team that can make their home ground such a cauldron of intensity and support will always stand a chance in the Premiership.
Weaknesses: Worcester’s forward pack was often dominated last season, and this campaign could be similar with the loss of key powerhouses Will Spencer and Dave Denton departing to Leicester. Their replacements – Michael Fatialofa and Cornell du Preez respectively – face a difficult task in adapting to a new league while carrying a weak forward pack at the same time.
Key Man: It is no coincidence that Worcester’s winning run in November last season coincided with Francois Hougaard‘s return from injury. The South African is so talismanic to his side’s game that they simply look lost without him in attack and defence. As well as Hougaard, fullback Chris Pennell is also an incredibly important player for Worcester – his solidity amongst a raw, exciting back-line is essential.
Young gun to watch: Jack Singleton broke into Worcester’s starting team last season, and if the Warriors are to again avoid relegation, the young hooker must keep progressing in order to add power to a lightweight forward pack in the absence of Donncha O’Callaghan.
Prediction: Though their back-line ensures that they can compete with any Premiership side on their day, a functioning set of forwards is vital for top-flight survival. When you combine the losses of O’Callaghan, Denton and Spencer with a fly-half in Jono Lance who often struggled to control a game amid a weak pack last season, it’s difficult to see past Worcester finishing 12th.
Ins: Callum Black (Ulster), Ashley Beck (Ospreys), Cornell du Preez, Duncan Weir (both Edinburgh), Michael Heaney (Doncaster Knights), Isaac Miller (London Scottish), Scott van Breda (Jersey Reds), Jono Lance (Queensland Reds), Francois Venter (Cheetahs), Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes), Farai Mudariki (Tarbes), Justin Clegg, Zac Xiourouppa (both promoted from Academy).
Outs: Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer (both retired), Huw Taylor (Dragons), Jackson Willison (Bath), Will Spencer, David Denton (both Leicester Tigers), Sam Olver, Andrew Durutalo (both Ealing Trailfinders), Biyi Alo (Angouleme), Michael Dowsett (Canon Eagles), Ben Howard (England Sevens), Kurt Haupt (SWT Eagles), Grayson Hart (London Scottish), Max Stelling (Hino Red Dolphins), Tom Heathcote (released).