WARRIORS fans who braved the M6 traffic and the wretched weather saw a glimpse of the future at Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell Stadium.
Looking down the team sheet prior to kick-off, it was clear both directors of rugby were using the fixture as an opportunity to blood a host of youngsters.
However, with Sale going into the LV= Cup contest with a much more realistic hope of pool qualification, their power-packed bench was always likely to decide the outcome.
And so it proved. Worcester’s band of up-and-coming hopefuls battled gamely for an hour of the contest, but when Steve Diamond introduced the likes of Aviva Premiership powerhouses Eifion Lewis-Roberts, James Gaskell and Andrei Ostrikov, not to mention the mercurial Danny Cipriani, there was only going to be one winner.
The Sharks clamped an iron fist around the final 20 minutes and wrapped up victory convincingly to leave them in with a shout of qualifying for the semi-finals.
However, the defeat – coupled with Bath’s bonus-point win over Cardiff Blues – ensured the West Country side would progress from Pool Three at Worcester’s expense.
Deep down, though, that would have been an irrelevance for Dean Ryan, who has seen the two cup competitions as very much a breeding ground for the young Sixways talent that will be central to his plans to lift the club out of the doldrums.
It was exciting to have a look at some of these prospects in action in senior rugby for the first time, but it was always going to be a case of ‘in at the deep end’.
The main talking-point for Worcester fans pre-match was how Elliott Davies would fare on his debut at fly-half.
The Gloucester-born former Bromsgrove School pupil was understandably nervous and shaky to begin with and his kicking out of hand – albeit in dreadful conditions – was nothing to write home about.
However, he grew in confidence as the game went on and was at ease bossing a pack containing gnarled veterans such as Dean Schofield and Chris Jones around the field.
The experience will serve him well, but it seems that the currently-injured Tiff Eden, another fly-half prospect in the academy, is the one Ryan and Co are eager to pin their play-making hopes upon.
The much talked-about trio of Jack Cosgrove, Andrew Boyce and George de Cothi also featured in the second-half and Ryan rates them all highly.
However, for me, the most eye-catching academy product on display was towering lock Christian Scotland-Williamson.
The strapping second row still has exams to finish at Loughborough University, but has been signed to an academy contract for next year, such is the excitement about his potential at Sixways.
At Sale, he pushed engine room partner Dean Schofield hard for the man-of-the-match vote following an all-action display.
He is very much in the mould of the modern-day second row – tall, strong, athletic and able to cover every blade of grass.
Yes, he still has plenty of work to do, but seeing him in action against the Sharks was reminiscent of when a young Courtney Lawes was making his first strides in the professional game.
At a glance:
4m: Ford pen 3-0
41m: Ford pen 6-0
51m: Davies pen 6-3
57m: Easter try 11-3
58m: Ford con 13-3
62m: Davies pen 13-6
72m: Ingall try 18-6
73m: Ford con 20-6