HARLEQUINS (30) vs LEICESTER TIGERS (23)
HARLEQUINS director of rugby Conor O’Shea paid tribute to the foundations laid by his notorious predecessor Dean Richards after claiming the first Premiership title in the club’s history.
Table-topping Quins held on in a nervy climax to Saturday’s final at Twickenham to beat Leicester and complete a dramatic turnaround in the side’s fortunes since the Bloodgate scandal of 2009.
Former England No8 Richards was handed a three-year ban from rugby for his prominent role in an episode that dragged the south Londoners’ name through the mud sent shockwaves through the sport.
But as he revelled in a landmark triumph that caps two seasons of revival in which Quins have made headlines for all the right reasons, O’Shea took time to recognise Richards’ role in their success.
“It is a massive tribute to Dean, for putting so many of the structures in place, and a lot of people at the club including the owners,” said O’Shea.
“A couple of years ago this team said it wanted to create a different chapter in Quins history. It’s a very special day for the club. I’m so proud of the effort of those players.”
Fittingly, Harlequins’ victory owed much to a second-half try from captain Chris Robshaw, for whom the season could scarcely have gone any better. The flanker, 25, has gone from the international wilderness to skipper and cornerstone of Stuart Lancaster’s new England side, while marshalling Quins to an historic campaign and being named the Premiership’s player of the year.
“Chris epitomises what the club is about,” O’Shea added. “He doesn’t get ahead of himself, he is ultra competitive. Good teams win, great teams kick on. This group of players, because of the type of person Robbo is, won’t be allowed to rest on their laurels. I am delighted for him.
“We want to be a great side. This has to be a starting point. We’ll start from scratch next year, but we’ll enjoy tonight. It’s a very special day for the club. I’m so proud of the effort of those players.”
Nine-time champions Leicester went into their eighth successive final as favourites but found themselves on the back foot and 11-3 down after 22 minutes, thanks to a slick Tom Williams try and two Nick Evans penalties.
Tigers reduced the arrears to 14-13 at half-time with Steve Mafi’s breakaway try nine points from the boot of teenage fly-half George Ford, starting in place of the injured Toby Flood.
Two more kicks from No10 Evans gave Quins a cushion straight after the break as they took advantage of Thomas Waldrom being sent to the sin bin, and Robshaw made a decisive breakthrough on 56 minutes.
The England skipper crashed over from two metres out, Evans converting to extend the lead to 14 points, and another Evans penalty left O’Shea’s men 30-13 up with just 15 minutes remaining.
Anthony Allen touched down as the Tigers found an instant response and Ford converted to leave them within a score of forcing extra-time but comeback hopes died when Quins were awarded a penalty in front of their own posts.