Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

O'Shea: We could not match Leicester

Conor O'Shea paid tribute to Leicester after their victory

Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea paid a glowing tribute to Leicester after the Tigers emphatically ended his team's reign as English champions.

Leicester cruised to a 33-16 victory at Welford Road, booking an Aviva Premiership final appointment with Saracens or Northampton on May 25. Quins led 9-6 just before half-time but they were then demolished as Vereniki Goneva, Niall Morris, Tom Croft and Mathew Tait ran in tries, with fly-half Toby Flood kicking 13 points.

It is Leicester's ninth successive trip to Twickenham for a Premiership final - they have won three and lost five - and O'Shea accepted the irrepressible Tigers had delivered a masterclass. "In the second half Leicester were absolutely outstanding, but I will have nothing but admiration and pride for the way we came up here and tried to play," O'Shea said.

"We didn't go into our shells - we gave it our best shot - but in the second half it was an absolutely magnificent performance by Leicester. I thought we played pretty well. We just came up against a force in the second half that played at a level we couldn't match.

"We knew it was going to be ferocious. We probably took them by surprise in the first half the way we went about our business, and I don't want people to forget just how well we played in that first 40 minutes.

"But they just ramped it up. They were brilliant, they were like rabid animals at times the way they were going into it, and sometimes you lose composure away from home. If we had played like we did in the first half against the majority of teams then we would have been out of sight and over the hill at half-time."

At the heart of Leicester's irresistible display were the performances of their six British and Irish Lions, who will head to Hong Kong and Australia later this month. And at the epicenter was England flanker Croft, who only returned to action earlier this season following a serious neck injury suffered against Quins at the Twickenham Stoop last April that threatened his career.

"Tom Croft is a very special athlete," O'Shea said. "But it is also the physicality he brings to the game - he is an incredible competitor."

And Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: ""We know how good Crofty can be. We have been very patient with him, and he's been very patient with us. Our loyalty to those guys who get injured is always the same. But the commitment from those six Lions, you wouldn't think they were saving themselves, would you?

"I am delighted with the performance. The (Goneva) try before half-time was crucial for us and I thought across the board the players were outstanding. So much work goes into the season across the board, from top to bottom, and to get to a final - which we have got to win - is great for the club."

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