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Dan Cole more appreciative of final appearance after barren Leicester run
Long-serving prop has helped Leicester win the league title on three occasions.
Dan Cole can recall a time when it was “automatic” for Leicester to reach the Gallagher Premiership play-offs and final.
But the fact their last Twickenham appearance in English rugby’s showpiece domestic occasion was nine years ago has brought a level of appreciation to Saturday’s final against Saracens.
When England prop Cole made his Tigers debut almost 15 years ago, they were a dominant force.
Leicester reached nine successive Premiership finals from 2005 to 2013, with Cole three times a title winner.
But the likes of Saracens and Exeter then surged past them as Tigers found themselves twice flirting with relegation, rather than challenging for silverware, during recent campaigns.
“When I first came into the side, we were on five finals on the bounce and it was an automatic we would get to the play-offs and be in the final,” Cole said.
“Leicester reached nine in a row, and even though you won or lost, it was always ‘we have next year’.
Two or three years ago we could barely win a game for love nor money
- Leicester prop Dan Cole
“Then that stopped, and you go nine years without reaching one and you learn to appreciate it.
“You learn how hard it is to win one and how fortunate you are to play in a side that wins week in, week out.
“Now, we are turning things around, but you understand how hard it is to win. Two or three years ago we could barely win a game for love nor money.”
Cole has vivid memories of the Premiership pain-game, recalling how the 2018-19 season unfolded, with Leicester finishing 11th, having beaten Newcastle in what many billed as a relegation decider.
“I remember sitting in the changing room about two weeks before we played Newcastle away in the relegation clash,” he added.
“We had played Northampton at home on a Friday night and got beaten. We had thrown everything as a squad at it, and they had beaten us.
“You just sat in the changing room and thought ‘we are stuffed’. Everyone in the room was trying as hard as they could, and we could not get a result.
“That was the lowest moment I have ever had in a Leicester shirt.”
Fast-forward to an inspired revival over the past two years led by head coach Steve Borthwick, and Leicester are once again chasing title glory.
Cole, who turned 35 last month and will make his 290th Leicester appearance in the final, said: “There is nothing flash about us, which suits my personality well.
“The 80 minutes you play at the weekend is a very small part. There is a lot more goes into the games and victories.
“As you get older you make more memories and you cling on to them a little bit more, because as you get older you know you are not going to be able to do it forever.
“We are never going to have the same squad of players again, and you never know what opportunities you are going to get.
“You want to impress on some of the young guys that you have to appreciate this one for what it is.”