Dan Cole is not one to waste words. As the Leicester and England prop reflects on his first season with the club he joined 12 years ago that has not ended with a place in the play-offs, he offers a succinct summation: not good enough.
Successive home defeats by Northampton, who had previously only won one match on the road this season, and Newcastle, who on Saturday entertain Wasps in a third-place tussle, have left the Tigers outside the top four and needing to secure two points at Sale on Saturday to be certain of maintaining their record of being the only English club to qualify for every European Cup.
“It is a tough pill to swallow but the table does not lie and the top four deserve to be there,” said Cole, who has been on the past two Lions tours. “It is the first time we have missed out on the play-offs for 14 years. We have to reflect on this and come back stronger next season.
“We have not been good enough. We have lost five league matches at home and we have not scored enough points. The league is competitive with everyone capable of beating everyone else. You have to be at your best every week and we have not been. We have scraped into the play-offs in the past when we did not really deserve to and the only positive from this is that we will have a longer off-season to put right what went wrong.”
The defeat by Newcastle at Welford Road on Friday reflected Leicester’s season. They blew a 10-point lead in the final 11 minutes and had Gloucester beaten Bath at home the following day, the Tigers’ hold on a place in the top six and Champions Cup qualification would be more precarious.
Gloucester will be in the Champions Cup next season after reaching the Challenge Cup final and go into their final match at Saracens not having to worry about where they finish in the Premiership. Leicester will start the weekend in fifth, two points ahead of Gloucester and four ahead of Sale who are chasing a place in the top six.
“You want to be in Europe’s top competition and we have to defeat Sale to confirm that,” Cole said. “They score a lot of tries, have a dangerous back three and Faf de Klerk runs the show behind a strong pack. We know we are going to have to play.
“We reviewed the Newcastle game this week but the inquest on the season will wait until next week. What I would say is we have made progress as a squad and as a club off the field and we are a lot better than we were this time a year ago. Mark Bakewell came in as forwards coach halfway through the season and he has been brilliant: he will have a whole pre-season to bed things in and we will regroup.”
Cole also endured a difficult season with England, who finished fifth in the Six Nations, their lowest in the championship, after losing their three matches.
“The Six Nations is as competitive as it has been for a while and that makes it the best international tournament going,”Cole said. “We had a difficult tournament but we have not become a bad side. We lost in Scotland and France but there were periods in both when the game was there for us.”
England have a three-Test tour to South Africa, who are expected to include at least five overseas-based players in their squad, next month. Eddie Jones has talked about resting some of his Lions but Cole does not know the coach’s thinking.
“I do not expect anything,” he said. “Nothing has been said about resting and I will not know until the squad is announced [on 10 May].”