Cockerill offers no excuses as Tigers slain by 'tiny margins'
Published 10/04/2011 | 05:00
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill offered no excuses for the Tigers' Heineken Cup demise after they lost a titanic quarter-final against Leinster.
Four Jonathan Sexton penalties and an Isa Nacewa try saw off Leicester 17-10 at the Aviva Stadium to book a semi-final appointment with Biarritz or Toulouse later this month.
"We can't complain," said Cockerill. "We had opportunities to win, but we didn't take them, and against a side like Leinster it will come back to bite you on the backside.
"When the pressure comes on in the big games, you have got to execute those chances, but I have nothing but praise for our boys. At 17-3 down, a lot of sides would have given up the ghost.
"We showed great attitude and spirit. That fighting spirit will always be there, but the result is hugely disappointing -- it was that tight."
Those fine margins were illustrated early in the second period when Leicester wing Alesana Tuilagi appeared to have crossed Leinster's line despite a crunching Sean O'Brien tackle, but it was ruled out by the video referee.
"There were millimetres in it," said Cockerill. "It wasn't a try, but it was a really good break by Alesana to get himself into the position where he got to. Again, we are talking about tiny margins."
Leicester, the Aviva Premiership title favourites, never seriously threatened the 2009 European champions. They struggled in the lineout, their cause not helped by England lock Louis Deacon's early departure through injury, yet Cockerill was left to reflect on the Tigers' failure to top their qualifying pool after drawing at home with Perpignan in December.
And he also voiced support for Leicester's England half-backs Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, who suffered another painful defeat at the same stadium where England's Six Nations Grand Slam hopes ended three weeks ago.
"It was our own fault we didn't qualify as winners of the group, and more often than not you get what you deserve in this game.
"The half-backs are young guys learning their trade. They are high profile, in the spotlight, but Toby and Ben are quality players. It wasn't their fault we lost today."
Sexton, who booted 14 points when Ireland defeated England last month, came up trumps again.
And Leicester's defeat leaves their midlands rivals Northampton as the sole English survivors in this season's Heineken Cup. Saints face Ulster in Milton Keynes tomorrow.
It also dashed their hopes of a third European and domestic double following all-conquering achievements in 2001 and 2002, but they could have no real complaints after Leinster won most of the key individual battles.
Tigers will take little comfort from possibly bowing out to the eventual tournament winners, yet few sides could have lived with Leinster's unremitting ferocity -- with and without possession.
And Leinster coach Joe Schmidt hailed a huge defensive effort from his team that underpinned a victory which leaves them needing two more wins to capture a second European title.
"There were a number of turning points in the game -- it swung backwards and forwards," Schmidt said.
"We missed a couple of chances in the first half -- we made some fantastic line breaks we didn't finish -- but we also had pressure on the scoreboard.
"Leicester were always playing catch-up, but massive respect for our defence. We held them out through multiple phases.
"Leo Cullen was massive for us. He impressed me early in the week when he was devising our lineout defence, and I thought our lineout defence was another turning point."
As for the Tuilagi disallowed try, Schmidt added: "I think he should have scored. It was a crucial moment in the game.
"It could have put them 10-9 ahead and we would have been chasing the game, as opposed to them chasing it.
"And I was a little bit worried at the end, although I felt we would stay disciplined and keep our defensive shape, but there were some tired guys out there.
"There are some boys in bits in our changing room, and I doubt it is not a lot different in the Leicester dressing room."
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