Hat-trick hero Nili Latu admitted it was hard to see the bright side of Newcastle Falcons’ 21-15 final-day loss to Sale Sharks.
The talismanic No.8 crashed over twice before the interval to keep the hosts in touch at 15-10 after scores from Dave Seymour and Sam James.
And despite completing his hat-trick after the break to level the scores, two penalties from replacement Joe Ford saw the Sharks edge over the line.
The result saw the visitors seal a top-six finish and a spot in the Champions Cup next season, while Falcons finish 11th in the table and Latu was disappointed not to have ended the campaign on a winning note.
“I guess I get the credit for the tries but it was a team effort,” he said.
“The forwards played really well to put me in those scoring positions and my role really was just to get the ball over the line from a short distance. The credit really should go to the entire team.
“We should have scored a few more tries than we did, and that is something we need to work on for the coming season.
“We have to control the ball better when we have it, especially under pressure. We showed glimpses of what we can do as a team but we need to address it going forward.
“I do see great things for this club and this team, and there are definitely a lot of positives. We shouldn’t overlook that but we just need to push on, and I truly believe we can find ourselves further up that table next season.”
Meanwhile Steve Diamond tipped his cap to replacement Ford, who stepped up and delivered in the second half under pressure with two flawless penalties.
And after emerging on top of another Aviva Premiership Rugby battle, Diamond is confident his side are well worth their place in the Champions Cup.
He said: “We've come up here to win and we did – but it's never easy and it wasn't.
“Joe came on and slotted two vital kicks and stepped into the breach when we had an injury to Mike Haley, and that was difference in the second half.
“Newcastle couldn't live with us for the first 20 minutes, but fair play to them, they got back in the game and every time they went to the corner we struggled to cope and they scored.
“We knew it would be a battle and I think we got the rub of the green and were lucky to win, but time and time again we prove we have a relentless desire to be at the top of the game.
“We're proud to be in the Champions Cup and to represent the north and we hope Newcastle will (do so) with us in the near future.”
Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley (Agulla 57), Tait, Harris, Socino, Watson, Delany (Willis 68), Young (Takulua 62); Vickers, Hawkins (Lawson 40), Cusack (Vea, 40), Green, Witty, Wilson, Temm, Latu.
Not used: Rogers, Thompson, Mayhew
Sale Sharks: Haley (Ford 40), Addison, James, Leota, Edwards, Cipriani, Stringer; Lewis-Roberts (Harrison 55), Taylor (Briggs 68), Cobilas (Mujati 55-60-74), Evans, Ostrikov, Neild, Seymour (Easter 55), Ioane
Not used: Mitchell, Jennings
Tries: Latu 3
Tries: Seymour, James
Pen: Cipriani, Ford 2
Referee: Matthew Carley
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.