Worcester on the brink
3:05pm Saturday 29th March 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Worcester's long battle to preserve their Aviva Premiership status will effectively reach a painful conclusion if they lose against fellow strugglers Newcastle on Sunday.
Defeat for the Warriors at Kingston Park would increase a current 12-point margin between themselves and 11th-placed Newcastle with just four games left.
While mathematical certainty of Worcester's fate is unlikely until mid-April, they know a first league win since March last year is non-negotiable.
If, as expected, they finish bottom of the Premiership pile, Worcester's only hope of survival will be that the eventual Championship winners do not meet top-flight entry criteria.
"The pressure is on us because we are going into a game where we can't afford to lose, because if we do then that is pretty much it," Warriors rugby director Dean Ryan said.
"The team has progressed massively. We can see tangible differences from what we were seeing several months ago. They are giving their all.
"There is a real clear buy-in to the team ethos that we are trying to build.
"The (match-day) 23 that you see are pretty much going to be in the 23 every week. We just have to get them fresh enough and in the right space to give each game a go."
And Worcester forward Mike Williams added: "The game against Newcastle is definitely the biggest game of our season so far. We all know it, and we want to get the result more than anything.
"We have improved immensely as the season has gone on, and we just need to keep that up and keep our performance high and we can get that win.
"It is a massive game, and both clubs will be desperate for the win. Hopefully, we can be on the right end of the result."
Ryan makes one change from the side that suffered an injury-time defeat against Wasps eight days ago, with prop Rob O'Donnell replacing Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays for religious reasons.
While Worcester have not won away in the Premiership for more than two years, Newcastle's record shows 11 successive league defeats and they can reflect on just one Premiership home success this term.
They did, though, collect two losing bonus points at Gloucester last weekend that put further distance between themselves and Worcester.
Centre Gonzalo Tiesi, who signed a new contract with Newcastle earlier this week, captains the Falcons instead of an injured Will Welch, while Mark Wilson returns to the back-row and there are starts for scrum-half Warren Fury and wing Sinoti Sinoti.
Sinoti replaces England Under-20 international Zach Kibirige, who suffered a broken leg during the 40-33 loss to Gloucester.
"We are really looking forward to playing Worcester," Fury said.
"They are a tough side who want to come up and win here and get some points, but we need to go out and dictate it.
"Everyone is raring to go, and it is going to be a good game. We all watch the games, and everyone knows how much Worcester have improved and how much quality they have in their squad.
"They have a great head coach in Dean Ryan, and they really have nothing to lose coming here and will go all out to win."