Premiership: Worcester, London Irish & Newcastle scrap for survival

By Adam WilliamsBBC Sport
London Irish, Worcester and Newcastle all fighting to avoid the Premiership drop
London Irish, Worcester and Newcastle have all found Premiership wins hard to come by

At the halfway point of the Premiership season, the bottom three clubs are separated by just one point.

With 11 games left, one of Worcester Warriors, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons look odds-on to be relegated to the Championship in May.

BBC Sport takes a closer look at the trio's fortunes so far and how they might turn them around in the second half of the campaign.

Premiership table as it stands after round 11

10th place - Worcester Warriors

P11 W2 L9 - 13 points

Dean Ryan's Worcester side won promotion to the Premiership last season after a last-gasp victory against Bristol in the Championship play-off.

Life back in the top flight got off to a bright start for Warriors when Tom Heathcote kicked an injury-time drop-goal to seal a 13-12 win against Northampton at Sixways in October.

But only one more victory has come since - against fellow strugglers Newcastle - and perhaps of more concern, Worcester have won just one Premiership match away from home since January 2012.

Worcester director of rugby Dean Ryan
Dean Ryan questioned the energy of his Worcester side in their defeat at London Irish

That success on the road came at Kingston Park in March 2014, and Worcester will already have an eye on their next trip to the north east on Friday, 4 March as being potentially decisive.

Their performance in the 20-13 defeat on Sunday at London Irish was labelled as "unacceptable" by director of rugby Ryan.

"We're now in a real fight. We can't hide from it," he told BBC Hereford & Worcester following his side's seventh straight Premiership defeat.

"Sunday was the opportunity to put some space between us and the other two teams below us and we missed it.

"They (London Irish) now have the momentum. We had ours at the beginning of the season and didn't capitalise on that by getting another win on the back of it to keep some distance."

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11th place - London Irish

P11 W3 L8 - 12 points

Tom Coventry arrived in the summer as new head coach of the Exiles after time with Super Rugby franchise Waikato Chiefs in his home country of New Zealand.

He inherited an Irish side that had finished 10th in its two previous Premiership campaigns.

Coventry would no doubt bite off any hand that offers him a repeat finish now after he saw his side lose their first six Premiership matches.

London Irish celebrate a try against Worcester
London Irish's three Premiership wins have all come at the Madejski Stadium

It was an introduction to northern hemisphere domestic competition the 49-year-old called "tough".

"What I've learnt is the teams are all very different," he told BBC Sport. "They all have their own individual styles, which is quite unique.

"The home and away concept, playing on different sorts of pitches, they're all learning experiences for me.

"Getting my head around the competition and getting to know my team has been a big change.

"But we're only at halfway and the key thing is not to panic. We certainly need to be cleverer with what we're doing and think smart about what we're trying to achieve with this group."

Irish's three wins have all come at home - against Northampton, Newcastle and Worcester - but Coventry has seen his defence ship an eye-watering 322 points, 45 more than both their fellow strugglers.

They currently sit above Newcastle by virtue of those three home successes, but significantly have failed to pick up a bonus point of any description in the first 11 games.

12th place - Newcastle Falcons

P11 W2 D1 L8 - 12 points

Like London Irish, Newcastle would also presumably take a repeat of their 11th place from last season come May.

The Falcons have shown promise in recent weeks. A dramatic late home victory against Harlequins was followed by a narrow defeat at Wasps as the boot of former fly-half Jimmy Gopperth denied them a first away win of the season.

"Hopefully we can learn from it," attack coach Dave Walder told BBC Newcastle at the Ricoh Arena.

"If we face the same situation in the weeks ahead, we'll be better for it, be more clinical and come away with the win.

"We've had lapses for big parts of games this season that have cost us and we've had lapses for certain parts of games and been lucky to come out the other side of it with a win."

Newcastle fly-half Andy Goode
Andy Goode was tempted out of retirement over Christmas to join Newcastle

Director of rugby Dean Richards prised Andy Goode out of retirement during the festive season.

The former England, Leicester, Wasps (and briefly London Irish) stand-off has contributed some crucial points already with his kicking, even if his fitness is still slightly off the pace.

Like Worcester and London Irish, Newcastle's only victories have come at home. But the Falcons have picked up vital losing bonus points and a 15-15 draw at Sale's relative fortress of the AJ Bell Stadium.

Who will survive the drop?

Worcester Warriors supporters
Worcester Warriors supporters will hope their frowns are replaced with smiles by May

Significant focus will be on when the three sides play each other in the second half of the season.

Perhaps crucially, Newcastle will play both of those games at home, while Irish still have trips to Sixways and Kingston Park.

If the second half of the season mirrors the first for all three, the teams who win the most games at home between now and 7 May are likely to stay safe.

Premiership relegation battles still to come
Newcastle v Worcester - Friday, 4 March 19:45
Worcester v London Irish - Saturday, 27 March 17:30
Newcastle v London Irish - Sunday, 17 April 15:00

Added to that, London Irish also cross the Atlantic for a "home" game on 12 March against defending champions Saracens in New York.

The trip could take its toll between matches at Bath and at home to Gloucester. The Exiles also have a European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Harlequins to come in April and a lengthy injury list.

For Worcester, the memory of relegation is the most recent after they failed to cling on to their Premiership status in 2014.

With wins likely to be at a premium for all three, bonus points could decide the equation. On that basis, it makes grim reading for London Irish, who have none so far.

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