Geordan Murphy described Leicester Tigers’ defensive display as “exemplary” after kicking off the European campaign with back-to-back wins.
A Tom Hardwick penalty with the last kick of the game gave Tigers a 14-11 win against Cardiff Blues in Wales on Saturday evening, backing up the bonus-point victory over Pau in Round 1 of the European Challenge Cup.
But it was reward for a gutsy performance from a young Tigers team which included 13 players who have come through the club’s academy system alongside internationals Ellis Genge and Tomas Lavanini.
“It was a big challenge for a young group and I got a lot of criticism for the selection, but we have got some injuries and some guys need down-time,” said head coach Murphy after a win which took Tigers top of Pool 5 ahead of the December double-header against Calvisano.
“But we had a really good pre-season so fitness is high and everyone stuck at it for each other and for the plan.
“I thought our defence was exemplary. At times they really played well and exposed us and they kicked well, but we had some really good defence. That Sam Costelow last-gasp defence was just enough to keep out that late chance, but I thought it was indicative of our performance as a whole.”
After falling behind to two penalties from Blues fly-half Jarrod Evans, Tigers created a try for No8 Jordan Coghlan but were 11-8 behind at half-time after conceding a score from wing Aled Summerhill.
It was Summerhill who was later denied by a last-ditch tackle from European debutant Costelow who just managed to do enough to force him into touch as he reached out to dot down in the corner. But fly-half Tom Hardwick added the only points of the second half, kicking the scores level on 60 minutes and then nailing the winning shot with 80 minutes already on the clock.
“It wasn’t pretty at times,” added Murphy. “But it was gritty and for a young group to show that, I was really proud of the performance.
“It’s great for this squad. I spoke to the guys on Tuesday and said people would question the selection and it was a case of circle the wagons and see what we have got in this group.
“Discipline was not as good as I would like, the breakdown could be better, but you cannot question the heart because the guys showed it in abundance.”
Tigers go to Northampton Saints on Saturday in the fifth round of the Gallagher Premiership season before resuming the Challenge Cup campaign with home-and-away ties against Italian side Calvisano.