Geordan Murphy said the last-gasp defeat by Bath provided a “heartbreaking” conclusion to the Leicester Tigers season.
Tigers scored three tries to lead 31-25 approaching the final moments of the game in Round 22 of the Gallagher Premiership season, but then replacement prop Jacques van Rooyen forced his way over for a winning score which ultimately secured Bath's place in the European Champions Cup next season and condemned their hosts to last-day defeat at Welford Road.
“It is absolutely heart-breaking, to be honest,” admitted head coach Murphy at the final whistle. “The guys put in a huge shift, but it was a real shame we couldn’t send everyone away on a winning note.”
It was doubly disappointing as Tigers had fought back from an early Bath try to lead 26-15 at half-time with scores from Will Spencer and Brendon O’Connor.
By that stage the home crowd had also screamed for a forward pass in the build-up to a try from Joe Cokanasiga on Bath’s left wing and Tigers flanker O’Connor had had a score disallowed after referee Craig Maxwell-Keys and television match official Sean Davey determined that Clayton Blommetjies had put a foot in touch in the build-up.
“Some big decisions went against us,” said Murphy. “That probably is the nature of it when you’re down on your luck. In games like that, where it comes down to the wire, it really magnifies big decisions.
“The Bath try, the crowd all thought it was forward and Freddie Burns thought it was forward as he went for a quick conversion from the touchline. They checked with the TMO and he didn’t think so. I'm always going to look at it from Leicester's point of view but with Clayton, in my opinion, it looked like the ball was out of his hand before he is in touch.
“That’s a 12 or 14-point swing and it’s a one-score game in the end. That hurts you.
“For 60 minutes I thought we were the better side. I was really pleased with the first half and at half-time we were in a good place. But we started the second half poorly. We gave Bath ball and we were sat on the ropes for 10 minutes which makes it tough.
“We started to struggle for bodies, we’d burnt a few out and started to lose a few around 55 or 60 minutes. Guys came off the bench and did a great job but we turned over a bit of ball and Bath took that late score to win it.”
With seven players making their final appearance for the club, it was an unfortunate end, and Murphy felt especially disappointed for the retiring Matt Smith who earned a huge ovation as he left the action in the closing minutes after 228 games for his hometown club.
Murphy said: “I thought Smithy was brilliant. It’s really sad to see the end of a guy like that, who gives everything on a weekly basis – you cannot buy that. Matt has been here 14 years and we would have given anything to win for him today.”