Worcester vs. London Irish: Exiles need a stay of execution at Sixways

London Irish have lost nine consecutive Premiership games ahead of their trip to Worcester. Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Speaking ahead of the Aviva Premiership season, London Irish prop Ben Franks urged his teammates not to allow the spectre of an instant return to the Championship weigh them down.

"There's going to be a lot of talk about relegation," he told ESPN in August. "But it's a long season and you don't want to be playing with a noose around your neck."

Irish appeared to take the former All Black's advice to heart as they made a barnstorming start to life back in the top flight with a bonus-point victory over London rivals Harlequins.

But things have not gone according to plan since that late summer afternoon at Twickenham. Nick Kennedy's side have lost all nine of their subsequent Premiership games and travel to Worcester Friday night well aware of the predicament in which they find themselves.

The Exiles currently sit bottom of the table with eight points, six adrift of their hosts who are a place above them. Should the Warriors win at Sixways then they would be at least 10 points clear of Irish at the halfway stage of the season.

Only once in the last five years has a team with eight points or less after 11 games managed to avoid relegation. That side was Worcester last term, but crucially they were not bottom at Christmas -- fortunate that Bristol, who were eventually demoted back to the Championship, could muster only four points from the first half of the season.

Moreover, in the last 15 years the average number of points needed to avoid the drop was 23 -- in the previous two it was 21. If this season plays out to a similar script then Worcester could be just two wins from safety.

We might not yet be at the season's midway point but that noose is dangling dangerously close to Irish's collective neck. Kennedy's men will be determined to ensure that their goose is not cooked before the Christmas turkey has even been put in the oven.

"Our work ethic has never been questioned this season," second row Sebastian De Chaves said this week. "We know that if we get everything right and we play to the best of our ability, we will win."

De Chaves' positivity is commendable but Irish have found it increasingly difficult to put things together on the pitch. The Exiles have scored the fewest tries of any of the 12 Premiership clubs this season (20), while conceding the most points (321) and the highest number of penalties (106).

To put those numbers into some perspective, Irish are the only team to have allowed more than 300 points against them so far this season and their porous defence has conceded an average of more than four tries a game.

By comparison, Worcester have conceded 42 fewer points, eight less tries and 23 fewer penalties. The Warriors have crossed the whitewash 23 time in total, meanwhile, and have amassed two more bonus points thus far than their visitors Friday night.

Worcester, of course, are not out of sight and a bonus-point win for Irish at Sixways could close the gap to just a single point. That would blow the fight for survival wide open, and Kennedy must hope that his players have listened to their World Cup-winning teammate.

Otherwise, the noose of relegation will only start to tighten.