John Kingston concluded his reign as Harlequins director of rugby by predicting a bright future for the club.
Quins were dismantled 41-17 by champions Exeter at Twickenham Stoop to finish the 2017-18 Aviva Premiership season in 10th place – their worst league performance since 2005.
Kingston’s departure from the club he has served for 17 years was announced last month but he was kept in place for the final three matches of the season, all of which have ended in defeat.
The veteran boss completed a lap of the pitch after the final whistle before being given a guard of honour by his players.
“I’m glad that’s out the way. I haven’t got myself emotional. I’m settled and content believing that going is the right thing to do,” Kingston said.
“I just wanted the group to put a shift in and they did that. The game was in the balance with 15 minutes to go, but they just had a bit more poke and were that bit bigger and stronger.
“They got away from us in the end but we put the effort in and the crowd stuck with the team, which is good.
“The future for Harlequins is very positive – I believe the squad we have here is the strongest assembled in my 17 years at the club.
“But we’ve lost confidence somewhere along the line and dreamed up things that weren’t right. As a consequence you start doubting everything you’re doing.
“We derailed in the second half of the season when we struggled with injuries and lost our England players, and then the confidence went.”
Exeter crossed six times, including a contender for try of the season scored by brilliant 21-year-old fly-half Joe Simmonds, and will face Newcastle in the semi-finals at Sandy Park in a fortnight.
Simmonds and veteran playmaker Gareth Steenson are competing for the number 10 jersey for the play-offs.
“We have a 10-day training window now to get ourselves ready for the biggest game of our season,” Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter said.
“Joe is going very well. There will tough selection decisions between him and Gareth for the semi-final – the guy that has been there and done it against the guy who has got the shirt at the minute.
“Joe has been fantastic for a young guy who is relatively inexperienced. He drove some elements of the game very well, and the Steenson came on and did well as well. We are blessed with a good combination.”