Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor insisted the Tigers can be “as good as anyone” after they ended a six-match losing streak with a laboured 19-15 victory at home to Aviva Premiership bottom side London Irish.
O’Connor said the current team was strong enough to get Leicester back to the top of English rugby despite admitting Saturday’s performance was not good enough.
Asked if he would need to sign more players in the summer, the Australian said: “What we have demonstrated, in bits and pieces, is that we can compete.
“There are a lot of teams that get bullied at Exeter but we were good for 50 minutes. We pushed Saracens and Wasps.
“You would think that if we can get it right for 80 minutes, we are as good as anyone.
“We will be back there [at the top] again. But at the moment we have to keep working to get back to where we want to be.”
It will be a long way back for Leicester judging by the performance against a limited but resolute Irish side.
It took them 36 minutes to break the deadlock, centre Matt Toomua scoring the first of three Tigers tries. The others came from their one bright spark, fullback Jonny May, and centre Manu Tuilagi on his 100th appearance. Wingers Joe Cokanasiga and Alex Lewington replied for Irish.
The win, which lifted Leicester two places to seventh, ended a run of six successive defeats — including four in the Premiership, and three at their one-time fortress, Welford Road.
O’Connor said: “It’s not a relief, it’s four points and we will take it and move on.
“We have now got a month with Premiership games to look at some things and make sure we are better when we play Gloucester.
“The performance wasn’t there today. We got a bit of belief out of it but we have to be better across the board. There wasn’t one aspect of that that we will be happy with.”
O’Connor was pleased with Tuilagi, now three games into his comeback, and thinks he may make Eddie Jones’ England team towards the back end of the Six Nations.
He said: “Eddie knows better than anyone that Manu has missed a lot of rugby and needs to train and play.
“I think Eddie will see how he progresses and see what his squad is like injury-wise and he will make an assessment towards the end of the Six Nations.”
Irish got a losing bonus point but are still nine points adrift of safety.
Director of rugby Nick Kennedy said: “It’s a game we could have won. It’s similar to last week, a couple of mistakes at crucial times cost us.
“It’s that 80 minutes of concentration we have to get. There is that belief there. We know we are good enough.
“We are chipping away with a little rock hammer, we need to change that to a sledge hammer and get some wins.
“We need to close games out because our Premiership survival is on the line.”