The failure of Worcester to survive in this year’s Premiership season was probably the most anticipated relegation since the leagues began. Despite the fact that Newcastle had gained promotion, which would usually make them favourites for the drop, the unexpected sacking of head coach Richard Hill after he had laid the foundations for the approaching season, left Worcester’s new director of rugby Dean Ryan having to manage with a group of players that he hadn’t chosen and struggling to find a game plan that would work with little or no time.
Every director of rugby has his way of doing things and will have ideas on how the game should be played while trying to find the players he feels will best be able to deliver that game.
Despite Ryan making all the right noises, it was obvious from the start of the season that there were serious problems with the game Ryan wanted Worcester to play and the players he had available to deliver it.
Now the weekly pain is finally over for them. Worcester can start the process of preparation for life in the Championship and the different challenges that presents.
The parachute payment they receive will help them maintain the quality of players necessary to bounce back next season, but there’s no guarantee they will be successful. A lot of work will be needed to make sure that the early part of next season sees Worcester at the top of the Championship table, reinforcing the idea in the minds of their opponents that Premiership teams are better than Championship teams and there’s no chance of beating them.
If Ryan can get his Worcester team to hit the ground running there is a good chance they will bounce back as they have been in the Championship before and should know what is needed to win.
That said, there are enough teams in the Championship like London Welsh, Rotherham, Leeds and Bristol with a history of Premiership rugby who would expect they can create problems for a Worcester side that will obviously be suffering from low self esteem.
Worcester have a mountain to climb and Ryan will need to be at his best if they are to succeed, but at least Ryan has the pleasant task of coaching the Barbarians against England on June 1 before he starts the
serious work this summer.
With a talented multinational side (seven New Zealanders, three Australians, three French and Steffon Armitage) confirmed, it should be a fun day against what will, in all probability, be an unrecognisable England team as Lancaster is unlikely to risk his already injury-ravaged squad.
Although many of this season’s ‘no shows’ will at last be fit, it is likely that any of them that Lancaster has already decided are in the squad for the World Cup will be left out of what is unfortunately now a nothing game and then a very hard tour.
In many ways, the Barbarian match is just the thing that Lancaster doesn’t need with so much disruption to his plans for the New Zealand tour already caused by the Premiership final the day before.
It is likely that a majority of those that play against the Barbarians will not be selected for the tour or, at best, will be put on the replacements list should injuries occur.
The Premiership final will effectively ensure that the team facing the Barbarians will be a third choice England team with a number of hopefuls, new and old, who will want to show that they have something to offer and amongst those could be Brian Moore’s current favourite Danny Cipriani.
Moore’s facile comments that Cipriani should be chosen to tour instead of the likes of Stephen Myler or George Ford simply because he has played international rugby before, is both naive and simplistic, as I am sure he knows.
As I wrote last week, many players have been given the chance to play international rugby but have been unable to reach and maintain the standards required and it is probable that Cipriani was one of those players.
During his brief international career he had a few good games and although he wasn’t helped by his off-field antics, he was dropped after a series of poor games (who remembers the two chargedowns by Italy?) once teams worked out his weaknesses.
As with all players, the first few games are used by the opposition to find your weaknesses and then work out how to exploit them.
There is little doubt that Cipriani is a talented individual who is playing well for his club (as he did at Wasps) and Steve Diamond seems to have achieved something that neither England nor the Melbourne Rebels managed by getting consistent performances from him – but that doesn’t necessarily mean he should take the place of other players who are playing just as well for their respective clubs.
Moore, more than most players, should recognise that club form is no real guide to international capability as he was constantly out-played at club level by Bath’s Graham Dawe, but Dawe was nowhere near as good as Moore when it came to Test rugby.
It maybe that Steffon Armitage and Danny Cipriani will feature in the Barbarians game, albeit on different sides, but with the first Test just a week later, it will be a bittersweet opportunity for each of them as it will probably mean that they will not be on the plane.
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