WHISPER it quietly, but Worcester Warriors look on course for a season without the threat of relegation hanging over them.
It might be a little premature to be thinking of survival at this stage in the campaign, but after recording a bonus point victory over Newcastle Falcons optimism is growing at Sixways.
Ten points now separate Warriors and bottom clubs Newcastle and London Irish – and going by their first half display they look set to cause more top flight teams problems this season.
New recruit Bryce Heem marked his debut with a well-taken try, while Alex Grove crossed twice after Chris Pennell went over in an impressive opening 40 minutes.
Such are the high expectations at Worcester, director of rugby Dean Ryan said he was frustrated his side were unable to kick on after the break.
However, he believes this will come with confidence as Warriors, who lie in sixth place after four games, aim to keep pushing on.
“I think our form in the first half showed how dangerous we could be,” he said. “But I think we shrank a bit in the second half.
“We were just counting down the clock which is an illustration of this group not being used being in a position where they are that dominant and they can’t kick on.
“I am pleased with ten points after four games, but we are a little bit frustrated because we could have got more.”
Since confirming the signing of Heem in April, excitement has been building and expectations have been growing ahead of his arrival from Waikato Chiefs.
And he took just five minutes to match both as the 6ft 4in wing darted through Falcons’ flimsy. After being brought down, the ball was then flung out wide and Pennell touched down. Tom Heathcote added the extras to open up a 7-0 lead.
Despite the early burst, though, it was Newcastle who were cranking up the pressure in the early stages and after Mike Delany missed a penalty and Pennell denied Giamba Venditti they levelled the scores.
Former Scotland international Ally Hogg was the provider as he followed a powerful run with a clever offload to Michael Young who dived over. Delany converted it.
Warriors were soaking up plenty of pressure, but that all changed when Cooper Vuna slipped through a gap on halfway.
Falcons halted the wing, but they failed to stop Heem on the opposite flank as Heathcote produced a well-weighted cross-field which found the Kiwi who eased over the try-line.
Heathcote dispatched another fine touchline conversion before setting up Grove for his first try which he converted to move 21-7 in front.
Delany closed the gap with a penalty, but Warriors were in buoyant mood and they did not take long to increase their tally.
This time, Grove received all the plaudits as he smashed forward before showing great strength to stretch and dot down. Heathcote did the rest from the tee.
But just when Falcons looked set for a difficult half-time team talk they gave themselves a welcomed boost with a try from Tom Catterick and a further two points from the boot of Delany.
Newcastle reduced their deficit further with a Catterick penalty, but with Matt Cox, who was a late replacement for GJ Van Velze, and Phil Dowson working hard at the breakdown, Worcester soon gained control.
As much as they tried, though, the hosts were unable to increase their lead as Ben Howard was stopped short of the line before Ryan Lamb, who was brought on to add spark in midfield, missed a penalty.
But their first half showing proved to be enough as Worcester celebrated back-to-back home wins.
PLAYER RATINGS: Pennell 8, Heem 8, Grove 9, Mills 7, Vuna 8 (Howard 69, 6), Heathcote 8 (Lamb 53, 6), Arr 8 (Mulchrone 53, 6); Rapava Ruskin 8 (Leleimalefaga 45, 6), Annett 7 (Bregvadze 64, 6), Schonert 7 (Rees 64, 6), O’Callaghan 7, Barry 7, Cox 8, Mama 7 (Betty 52, 6), Dowson 8
Replacements not used: O’Shea
Observer star man: Alex Grove – the experienced Scot is known as a rock solid defender, but it was his finishing skills which took centre stage as he struck twice in a dominant first half.