'We'll be going up looking for our pound of flesh'
March 28, 2014
Chris Pennell dodges past Charlie Sharples but for all his effort, Worcester are yet to record a win this term © Getty Images
After watching Worcester lose to Wasps and turning attention to Sunday's match between Newcastle and the Warriors, Stuart Barnes wrote in the Times: "It has the potential to be quite possibly the worst game in the history of the Premiership." A harsh assessment but not one without credibility.
Worcester and Newcastle sit in the last two places of the table, have three wins between them and are placed 11th and 12th respectively in the try-scoring stakes. It has been a grim season for the Falcons, but at least they go into Sunday's relegation battle against Worcester with a healthy 12-point cushion over the basement dwellers knowing a win will allow them to plan for next season in the Premiership with some comfort.
For Worcester, the outlook is even gloomier. In all competitions this season they have won two matches of which none have come in the Premiership. Players have come and gone, short-term signings have arrived with the burden of relegation-averting expectation hanging over them but amid the deluge of defeats, there has been one star shining brightly through the darkness - fullback Chris Pennell.
But even Pennell, so often held up as a bastion of hope for the Worcester fans, could do nothing as Wasps' Jake Cooper-Woolley crashed over in the 80th minute and 30th second against the Warriors last Friday and even his dash from the line could do little to distract Andy Goode from slotting the match-winning conversion for Wasps 94 agonising seconds later.
"For a start I knew that Andy wasn't going to miss it, he always rises to a pressure situation," Pennell told ESPN. "I know it was tough for him emotionally. My first thoughts were disbelief, I felt we were the better side and had done enough to win. When we had the scrum on the five-metre line in the last play of the game, every fibre of my being believed we were going to hold them out and win the game. It was gutting. We deserved to finally catch a break and get the win."
It could have been a different story for the Warriors this season. On four occasions they lost the game in the final moments having got themselves into a position where they could have got a victory. Experiencing each occurrence of nervous anticipation quickly morphing into despair has been Pennell; he has played every minute of Worcester's campaign. Valiant defeats are wearing thin for Pennell.
"It's no fun losing, no one enjoys it. It's been a frustrating campaign. I know you shouldn't dwell on the past, but I can't help but feel that if we had beaten London Irish and Newcastle early on, this season would have been different. When you get close to a win and then keep on getting knocked back, it is difficult. I wish I had the magic answer to why it has been like it is.
"Personally defeat is always tough to take and there'll be a big feeling of relief if we can do the job we know we are capable of on Sunday. It'll make the journey back a lot easier. I am looking forward to turning up on a Monday having got the W under our belt at last. It's been a long time coming and it's long overdue."
Despite Worcester's shortcomings, Pennell has grown as a player this term. He's gone from being a solid Premiership performer to knocking on the England door. It has been a similar case to the 2009-10 campaign when Worcester were relegated. Then he used the opportunity to work alongside Chris Latham as a means to develop his own game while Worcester were struggling. "I'm learning so much from the coaching staff, people like Shane Howarth, Dean [Ryan] and Carl Hogg. I'm learning, but the results aren't going our way on the field so there are some similarities."
© Getty Images
This season he has captained the team on occasions and his never-say-die attitude has attracted plaudits from near and far. While the plaudits are nice, Pennell admits, he talks of them without a hint of arrogance of self-congratulation.
"My wife likes to dig around on Twitter and read all the articles she can. I tend to focus on other things instead of getting caught up with it. If I'm feeling down, she tends to dig out some nice things which people have said about me. I'm very much aware that my form counts for nothing unless we're being successful as a club. Although from a personal point of view I am happy with the direction I'm going, it's a team game and the club is bigger than an individual."
Pennell's coach Ryan has attempted to build a new culture within Worcester focusing on long-term rewards and stability over short-term gain and Pennell admits the cracks of previous regimes have now started show despite the club having the management side settled. But despite the Warriors staring down the barrel of relegation, Pennell is committed to the team. He can expect the odd nudge in the summer from envious Premiership clubs looking to snap up his talents, but he is keen to remain a Warrior, you can imagine Worcester supporters exhaling at that thought.
"I'm contracted at Worcester and as far as I'm concerned I'll stand by that contract. My heart's at Worcester and I truly believe we are going in the right direction. I want to be a part of the success that I am certain will come at Worcester."
Such thoughts of playing in the Championship will not cross his mind until relegation is a mathematical certainty, though he admits they are in a "deep hole". And despite Barnes' assertion that it could be one of the worst games the Premiership has ever witnessed, Pennell is still hungry as ever to get that first win.
"I'm not sure Stuart saw our 3-3 draw against Wasps at Sixways a few years back, that must have been right up there. I imagine the game against the Falcons will be one of the most brutal games this season. There will be two teams wanting to knock lumps out of each other. I know we will be going up there looking for our pound of flesh and if they aren't up for it, there will only be one winner. I will be throwing everything at them, there's not one player in this squad that wants to play in the Championship next season."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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