Ryan: We're coping with pressure
Worcester boss Dean Ryan has delivered an upbeat verdict on his team as the Warriors prepare for a critical game in their Aviva Premiership survival battle.
London Irish, 10 points and one-place above Worcester, host the red-hot relegation favourites on Saturday.
The Warriors are without a league win for 10 months and they have just 11 Premiership fixtures left to wipe out an alarming deficit on teams like Irish and Newcastle.
"It is about operating under pressure," Ryan said. "We've been dealing with it all season, but if we can pick up a win then suddenly the pressure shifts to teams around us.
"Hopefully, we can get the outcome we all desire and then other teams will have to learn how to cope under pressure.
"We have improved dramatically defensively. We've improved our cohesion and we understand what we are trying to do collectively. We weren't any of those things at the beginning (of the season).
"In the last five or six games we have been consistently competitive against significant opposition.
"We are not losing our way. We're learning, we're getting better and we are gaining some confidence."
Gloucester, conquerors of Irish last weekend, climbed away from the bottom three as a result but they face a fearsome challenge on Saturday when Premiership leaders Saracens arrive at Kingsholm.
The west country club welcome back fly-half Freddie Burns, who is a subject of intense speculation linking him to joining Leicester next term, while Saracens are buoyed by England centre Brad Barritt making his first start since September.
"Saracens are playing extremely well, as everybody knows," Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies said.
"They will bring a different challenge to our last two games. They are physical, committed and very accurate in what they do.
"They play a very structured game and they do it very well. They focus on certain things and do it exceptionally well. You have to be very mindful that you don't play into the pressure that they create.
"They perhaps play a more rounded game than they have in the past, but I think conditions will play a big part this weekend.
"We are expecting a lot of rain and a heavy pitch, so it could be quite a brutal encounter."
Barritt apart, Saracens also restore wing Chris Ashton, centre Marcelo Bosch, fly-half Owen Farrell and skipper Steve Borthwick to their starting XV as they target a win that would see them clock up a Premiership points half-century after just 12 games.
Sunday's league action sees play-off contenders Leicester and Bath meet at Welford Road, while Exeter head to Adams Park for an appointment with Wasps.
"Points now are important because there will be a four-week break before we come back into the Premiership and you want to have the best chance of having a run of games that will really fire you up the league," Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said.
"In the past, we've always done that, we've always had a run in that final third of the season, and again we just want to make sure it means something.
"The more points we can accrue now, the more it will mean come the end of the season.
"We are in the top half of the league, which is where we want to be, but now we have a very important game against Wasps which will probably play a large part in what we are going to be fighting for at the end of the season.
"I think we like the fixtures we end the season with in our last third, but it's the quality that we put together now that is going to be equally as important.
"If you said to me we would achieve the level of performance we have done over the last six weeks I would be very happy, but what we are disappointed about is that we haven't won a few more games."