By Neale Harvey
Long-serving Worcester full-back Chris Pennell is convinced his side can emulate Newcastle by reversing over a decade of miserable under-achievement.
Pennell, who is embarking on his testimonial season, can barely remember the last time Warriors finished outside the bottom three – an eighth-placed in 2005/6.
However, he feels the current squad is one of the best they have ever assembled and with No.9 Francois Hougaard availble from the get-go, this is the campaign for Worcester to break their losing cycle.
He told The Rugby Paper: “We have to look at Newcastle and draw inspiration from what they did by finishing fourth – that comes down to how we start. Last year it took us eight matches to get a win, which is way too long if you want to have a good season.
“We’ve never had a fast start in as long as I’ve been at Worcester, but if we could win three or four of our first six games, everything else would come off the back of it and the confidence we’d gain would stand us in good stead.”
Worcester announced their 11th signing for the new season with Zimbabwe prop Farai Mudariki joining from French side Stado Tarbes Pyrenees.
Pennell, 31, added: “With the players we’ve got, we’re capable of doing the same as Newcastle.
“We’ve recruited well and to have someone of Francois Hougaard’s quality available from the start will certainly help give us the best opportunity. No.9’s a fiercely contested spot but Francois, right, brings a huge amount and having him is fantastic.
“Duncan Weir’s settled in well really well, too, and he’s a quality No.10 who understands how to operate a game at international level for Scotland.
“Having him, Jono Lance and Jamie Shillcock competing for that shirt is great and you only have to look at the rest of our squad on paper to see the strength-in-depth we have.
“It’s an exciting prospect given that it’s probably going to be the tightest year ever in Premiership rugby. Everyone’s going to be competitive but if we can just start well and get that consistency in our game, I’m sure we can challenge for the top six.”
While Pennell’s long service at Sixways has yielded little tangible success, his longevity remains remarkable after he was diagnosed with diabetes aged 19.
Diabetes UK will benefit from his testimonial fund, as will local charities Acorns and the Ladybird Trust, with Pennell now a role model for aspiring youngsters.
He explained: “Diabetes is extra baggage to carry around and for any kids going through the usual tough times at school and it can be really tricky.
“Kids get branded as ‘druggies’ because they take insulin and that has a massive impact if they haven’t got the confidence to talk about it.
“When I was diagnosed at 19 I thought that was my rugby career over, but then I Googled it and saw that people like Sir Steve Redgrave and Gary Mabbutt lived with it while enjoying top sporting careers, so if they could do it so could I.
“I speak on behalf of Diabetes UK now and the dream is for someone to Google us and see that I’ve been playing professional rugby.
“If that can inspire other people to do what I’ve done, that’s something I’d be very proud of doing.”