The fight shown by Harlequins’ players in their Challenge Cup final loss to Montpellier is indicative of the spirit at the club, according to departing director of rugby Conor O’Shea.
His side missed out on the chance to send him off with a second Challenge Cup, and record fourth for the club, as they went down 26-19 to the French Top 14 side in Lyon on Friday.
A converted try from Jesse Mogg gave the French side the lead but the boot of Nick Evans kept Harlequins within four points at the break, trailing 13-9.
Mogg added a second try early in the second half though, meaning Marland Yarde’s score in the final ten minutes was in vain and Harlequins missed out on a record fourth Challenge Cup.
However O’Shea, who now goes to coach the Italian national side, was proud of his players efforts in trying to mount a comeback when 26-9 down.
“I am incredibly proud of the six years we have had together, some of the people that I have met, got very close to and they fought tooth and nail, right to the bitter end,” said the Irishman.
“At 26-9 you raise the white flag but they fought and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“I am emotional, it has to be said.
“This is a great group of players and it is a great club, I wouldn’t change anything other than the result, of course you like to write your own scripts.
“We came up against a quality outfit but we showed endeavour and a never-say-die attitude.
“My daughter’s ex-headteacher always says ‘don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it’s happened’, so I wouldn’t change a thing.”
In six years at The Stoop O’Shea lead Harlequins to the Challenge Cup in 2011, a maiden Aviva Premiership Rugby crown the following year and the Anglo-Welsh Cup the year after.
Friday’s final was the club’s only route into the Champions Cup next season after finishing seventh in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and O’Shea said his side lost momentum after flying starts in the last two seasons due to the Six Nations.
“We have achieved a huge amount over the last number of years but we have fallen short and probably de-railed two years in a row by the Six Nations, but that’s life,” he added.
“I’m proud of every single one of them.
“We have always set out bar high and I think that’s why we’ve come to where we are and I know this club will be right at the top table for many years.
“My lasting memory will be the great people, great supporters, great players and a family.
“That’s what I talked to the boys about on Thursday night and they played like a family, they played for each other.”
O’Shea’s counterpart on the other hand, South African Jake White, was left celebrating Montpellier’s first major trophy and, with his side currently sitting second in the Top 14, could soon be celebrating a double.
The two sides met twice earlier in the Challenge Cup this season, each winning comfortably on home soil, and White said those games stood his side in good stead.
“I think the thing that probably counted in our favour was that we got a drubbing from them in the first game and that hurt us a bit because we probably thought we were a little bit better than we were,” said the World Cup-winning coach.
“That lesson stuck with us and we knew how difficult it would be to beat them here.
“Emotionally I am overwhelmed, to see a crowd like this supporting their team, it doesn’t matter what happened last year, it matters about going forwards and that is the nice part about where we are.
“What I am excited about is that it has come so quickly and what it means is that we have skipped a couple of steps.
“Sometimes when you lose you have to go backwards and try and find what went wrong.”
Harlequins: Brown, Yarde, Lowe, Roberts, Visser, Evans (Botica 68), Care, Marler, Gray (Ward 57), Jones (Sinckler 50), Horwill, Twomey, Robshaw, Wallace (Clifford 56), Easter
Not used: Lambert, Luamanu, Dickson, Chisholm
Montpellier: Fall (Mogg 18), Nagusa, Tuitavake (Ebersohn 68), Steyn, O'Connor, Catrakilis, White (Paillaugue 44), Nariashvili (Watremez 68), B Du Plessis (Ivaldi 73), Jannie Du Plessis (Kubriashvili 59), Jacques Du Plessis (Timani 73), Willemse, Ouedraogo, Qera, Spies (Galletier 62)
Penalties: Evans 3, Botica
Tries: Mogg 2
Conversions: Catrakilis 2
Penalties: Catrakilis 4
Referee: John Lacey
If you want to be at the world's biggest club rugby final, this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 28 May at Twickenham, tickets are available from premiershiprugby.com/final