Three rounds into the season and patterns in form are beginning to formulate in the freshly rebranded Gallagher Premiership, with the traditional steamrolling form of Saracens and Exeter Chiefs, while we see the persistence of a mid-table tussle betwixt the usual culprits.
One side that will have harboured aspirations of building atop the last three seasons in the league, following promotion from the Greene King IPA Championship, is West Midlands side Worcester Warriors, who currently languish in twelfth place.
Alan Solomons' men stand alone in failing to win a game so far this season and with an away trip to a wounded and resurgent Leicester Tigers side following the sacking of Head Coach Matt O'Connor and a narrow defeat to local rivals Wasps despite a first-half red card, a four-game losing streak seems to be on the cards for Worcester.
While many had predicted the Warriors would be the team destined for the much-feared relegation this time around, the disappointing manner of their losses so far this year strikes as the most frustrating part of their struggles.
With Springbok scrum-half Francois Hougaard, former Wallabies squad member (uncapped) Jono Lance at fly-half, impressive playmaking centre Ryan Mills, wings Josh Adams (Wales) and Bryce Heem (New Zealand Sevens) in their backline, Worcester had commanded an attacking edge to rival most sides last season.
However, it seems the summer additions touted as the men to guide Worcester to the next level have failed to settle in yet.
In particular, 27-times-capped Scottish international fly-half Duncan Weir has struggled to get his backline ticking in the same way Lance did after his mid-season arrival eleven months ago.
We take a closer look at just how Weir has failed to make the most of the backline around him thus far in his Premiership career.
In the opening 60 seconds of their loss to Newcastle Falcons at Sixways last weekend, Worcester were handed a lineout seven metres into their opposition’s half after a so-so box kick from Newcastle scrum-half Tane Takulua.
Once the hosts' lineout ball had bobbled about, Hougaard regathered and shipped the ball out to Weir, progressing towards Newcastle's defensive line surrounded by potential passing options.
As it stands, Weir has ample passing choices, even if they are perhaps grouped tighter than ideal for the ensuing attack.
This is unfortunately where the Worcester attack begins to manifest itself as predictable off first-phase.
Weir telegraphs his intentions by swivelling his entire body across the pitch, facing his hips, shoulders and head directly to his man, blindside flanker Marco Mama.
This may not have been a significant issue if the defensive line in front of him were restricted in both time and space to identify and plan, but with five metres to go, Newcastle's four defenders, Toby Flood, Will Welch, Callum Chick and Johnny Williams can continue their press, unfazed.
This results in Mama finding himself hit hard by the combined 210kg of backrow pairing Welch and Chick, with the ensuing ruck leaving Worcester three metres behind the initial lineout.
A failure to manipulate the Falcons' defensive line or provide Worcester with front-foot ball sees the host's pack backtracking to either join a breakdown or fill the attacking line.
Worcester are fortunate to make good ground down the left wing after this first phase after Newcastle's new centre, Johnny Williams (in his first start), bites in on a decoy line from USA hooker Joe Taufete'e, despite the fact that there are two defenders already in place.
See the lines below highlighting the direction in which Williams' feet, hips and shoulders are facing after spotting his mistake.
This prevents outside centre Chris Harris and right wing Adam Radwan from committing to one man each, with Worcester fullback Chris Pennell and wing Adams hovering out of frame.
This created a one-man overlap after Harris is forced to pay extra attention to Mills, leaving the 20-year-old Radwan to track both Pennell and Adams, as opposed to just Adams.
In essence, Weir's premature advertisement of his intentions prevented any real challenge posed to the Newcastle defence, while an error from a youngster (Williams) in his first start in a new jersey allowed Mills, Pennell and Adams to push their advantage and prevent Weir's mistake from denying Worcester metres.
Mills steps up
Conversely, we later see Mills take the ball at first receiver off the back of a Warriors scrum, being fed the ball from captain and number eight GJ Van Velze, with Hougaard and Weir tracking behind in anticipation.
Mills succeeds in drawing the man, as Weir had failed to, timing his run well enough to release the pass simultaneously with Flood's initial contact in the tackle, leaving the space previously occupied by Flood to become a defensive gap the rest of the Newcastle defence must observe. A distracting, manipulating chasm.
After Hougaard receives Mills' pass, Worcester have four running options already in motion and ready to press in the face of Falcons centre pairing Williams and Harris.
Hougaard's pass travels through the hands of Weir and Pennell to see Heem tackled an eventual 30 metres later.
The key here is Mills’ delay in his pass and manipulation of the opposing defence, to his teammates' advantage.
A man currently lauded throughout the league is England and Gloucester standoff Danny Cipriani, whose most dangerous attacking skill is releasing a perfect pass either milliseconds prior to contact or from the tangles of tackle itself. The same skill Mills deploys above.
Keep a keen eye on Cipriani in the video in the tweet below, a delay seen in 9/10 of Cipriani's killer passes.
A prominent concern for Worcester that must be addressed and smoothed out while they look to subdue their high penalty rate and malfunctioning lineout.
The first, conceivably lengthier choice, is to hammer away at the communication, timing and execution of Weir's role in Worcester's backline. A common and rational area of improvement when a fly-half amalgamates themselves into a new team.
A second, quicker option is to reappoint Australian fly-half Lance to the ten jersey after the impressive manner in which he orchestrated Worcester's attack during his short stay last season, before signing his current full-time contract.
Personally, deciding on Lance appears to make the greatest sense, especially given his advantage of time spent training and playing alongside with key Worcester lynchpins Hougaard and Mills last year.
The fight from mid to lower-table this season is set to be the tightest fought in recent memory and the side that eventually falls afoul of the inevitable relegation is likely to be of a significantly higher standard than the usual candidates.
Worcester must fix these issues as fast as possible, lest they face an uphill battle throughout the season after a winless start.
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