Chuter primed for shoot-out of shoot-outs

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The Independent Online

Leicester's return to the Millennium Stadium this after-noon is poles apart from their appearance there in 2002. Then they beat Munster, with a little help from the hand of Neil Back, to lift the Heineken Cup for the second year running.

Today, thanks to Munster's mugging of the Tigers at Wel-ford Road, they find themselves in the last-chance saloon, down to their final hand, the deck loaded against them and the bounty hunters in town. They need a shooter.

"We have to play every game as if it's a final," George Chuter said. Chuter gives the impression that he has been doing just that. A few weeks ago he was in the thick of it when Leicester beat Northampton in the Premiership, and he was at the heart of the second-half comeback against Munster, when Leicester appeared to have it won until Shane Jennings, conceding another 10 metres, gave Ronan O'Gara the chance to kick a superb penalty in the last minute. Jennings complained that O'Gara had knocked on, but the upshot was a devastating defeat.

"The way we approached the second half last Sunday was hard and aggressive, and we need to play like that for 80 minutes," said Chuter, who conceded a penalty for shoving Peter Stringer after the scrum-half had touched the ball down for a drop-out 22. "I wasn't trying to hit him. I didn't hear the whistle and I didn't think anything of it. There was a lot worse going on. It's a hard, confrontational game and we're in danger of losing that to citings. I'm a front-row forward involved in a collision sport with big, fired-up guys, and the spectators relish it. They want to see some passion. They don't want to see touch rugby."

Cardiff, who won at Bourgoin last week, will have to dig deeper if they are to condemn Leicester to European obscurity. "It will be some affair," Chuter promised. "We've got to win five matches on the trot, three away from home. Cardiff have talented individuals and a typical Welsh pack. To win on the road is a big deal in this tournament."

To lose at Welford Road to the reigning champions is an even bigger deal. Why are Leicester vulnerable where once they were untouchable?

"I wish I knew," Chuter said. "It's frustrating. Up front we had the upper hand against Munster but we're just not scoring tries. We've had enough possession to have won all our games but we're lacking the killer instinct. Munster didn't do a lot. They lived off our mistakes and played the right game for the conditions. But they now know they can win ugly and that's the key. They've got the monkey off their back."

It seems to have attached itself to the Tigers. "A few years back, no matter how we played we'd come through," Chuter said. "When England won the World Cup the Premiership was really vibrant and we provided the guys to do the job. The gap between league and Test rugby is wider now, and that's a worry for England. With the play-offs at the end of the year you don't need to win every game, which means there are more team changes. Maybe that's a factor."

Leicester did not enjoy a vintage campaign last season - they have not won a trophy since 2002 - but that did not stop them from making a record profit.

"The quality of rugby improves each season, which is good news for the clubs and England," Peter Tom, the Leicester chairman, said. There is little evidence of that. The attritional nature of the contest comes at a price, and there are few backs who can rise above the mayhem.

Pat Howard, the Leicester coach, sprang a surprise when Paul Burke started against Munster, although Andy Goode came on in the second half. "It's not an issue," Chuter said. "Paul missed a couple of kicks but did a lot of things well. Pat is not obsessed with structure and allows players to react to what's in front of them. In the end it's up to the players, not the coaches."

Goode is the only Leicester back in England's 30 for the Test against the All Blacks but they provide five forwards, including Chuter. "I've been getting positive feedback from the coaches and that's good enough for me."

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