Over and out from Tiger Pat

Leicester may be mourning the demise of their treble dream but head coach Pat Howard departs knowing he leaves the club at the summit of English rugby.

The Tigers’ 25-9 Heineken Cup final defeat by Wasps was Howard’s final game in charge before returning to Australia to run his family’s pharmacy business.

After five long years without silverware, Leicester finally emerged from their barren spell this season by winning the Guinness Premiership and EDF Energy Cup.

They seemed well positioned to add European glory to that roll of honour only to be thwarted by a bone-crunching display from Wasps, who extended their winning run in Twickenham finals to a remarkable sixth straight victory.

The Heineken Cup final has added another gripping chapter to English club rugby’s fiercest rivalry of the professional era, but Howard has no sense of unfinished business.

“I’ve made the right decision and it’s time to go. I’ve loved the club and I’ve loved the players as well,” said the former Wallaby.

“I’ve been lucky to be involved in this club and in the Heineken Cup but it’s time to walk away. I can’t say never again but it’s right to walk away at this moment.”

It was the first all-Premiership Heineken Cup final and while there were too many errors for it to be a classic, the contest was utterly absorbing.

The mystery is how players who perform heroics in a Wasps or Leicester shirt wilt for England on the Test stage with the world champions enduring a another wretched season.

However, Howard heads down under believing that club and country are in rude health.

“English rugby is in good shape. I’d like to take a really positive tone on where the sport is in this country,” he said.

“It’s a good product with good teams and good players. A lot of clubs are doing things the right way – not just one or two but many.

“The team that got relegated beat us in the EDF Energy Cup so that shows how strong the competition is. The sport is doing well.”

The treble may have been a bridge too far for Leicester and could ultimately prove beyond any club, even one with the resources enjoyed at Welford Road.

But their ability to challenge on three fronts this season owed much to Howard’s intelligent use of his squad in the first half of the campaign.

The Tigers boss attracted criticism for fielding weakened sides for some matches but skipper Martin Corry insists the selection policy swept the club to the brink of a unique achievement.

“It’s a long season and that’s the reason why Pat rotated the squad,” said the England forward.

“He took a lot of crap earlier in the season but he never wavered. That was important and his decision was justified because we needed to rotate in order to keep competing.

“It meant at this stage of the season the lads were fired up. He leaves us with a great squad.”

Former All Black centre Daryl Gibson also brought down the curtain on his four-year spell at Welford Road with the Heineken Cup the last of his 92 appearances for Leicester.

“A lot of people think the New Zealand way is the only way to play but I have learned that there are other ways to play,” said Gibson.

“I’ve learnt a lot from Pat. I want to be a coach and he is a very good coach.

“Analytically, he is the best and that’s high praise coming from someone who has been coached by some of the best in the world.”


365 Digital

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