Old hand Back keeps a cool head

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The Independent Online

Some will say it was downright cheating but I prefer to call Neil Back's flick of the hand at Munster's last scrum a piece of outrageous gamesmanship that most professional players would agree he had to do.

Some will say it was downright cheating but I prefer to call Neil Back's flick of the hand at Munster's last scrum a piece of outrageous gamesmanship that most professional players would agree he had to do.

He was clearly breaking the law when he scooped the ball out of Peter Stringer's hand as the scrum-half was about to place the ball in the scrum, but he had calculated the risk.

If he'd incurred a penalty, Leicester would still have won. If he'd been sin-binned as he deserved, Leicester would still have won.

But if he'd let that ball go to the Munster front row, Leicester might have lost. If Leicester had been only two points in front instead of six he wouldn't have done it -- it's as simple as that. It was harsh on the Irish but that's how the game is played. I bet Stringer will be wiser next time the situation occurs.

Anyway, we can't be sure that Munster would have won if their pack had heeled the ball. They were in a great attacking position in front of the posts but Leicester had been defending brilliantly against Munster's epic late onslaught and a try would have been far from a foregone conclusion.

What isn't arguable is that Leicester deserved to win and become the first team to retain the Heineken Cup. It was an unbearably close-run game but they were the better side and took their chances when they were available.

I say that even though I feel Munster were robbed of a try when John O'Neill went over in the corner late on. The video ref decided that he'd hit the corner flag when Austin Healey put in a flying tackle. It was Healey who hit the flag but that is just another controversy. What is undeniable is Leicester's merciless habit of producing the goods, of winning no matter how high the odds are stacked against them.

But whereas I thought they were lucky to beat Llanelli with Tim Stimpson's wonder kick in the last minute of the semi-final, I didn't think they were lucky yesterday.

What lost the game for Munster was their crippling inefficiency in the line-out. This fault ate into their confidence and allowed Leicester to concede penalties safe in the knowledge that Munster would probably concede possession at the throw-in.

It happened time and time again and Leicester were smart enough to change their tactics accordingly.

The big contribution to Leicester's win was the way they spotted that the Irish were tired in the first 20 minutes of the second half. That's when they took control. They stepped up the pace and began to apply the pressure. They declined to take three kickable penalties so they could keep Munster under the cosh and eventually they forced the opening that sent Healey flashing past Ronan O'Gara to score the decisive try.

How did Munster managed to mount such a thundering climax? They used the energy that comes with desperation. They weren't able to play like that earlier because they didn't have a base to work on, thanks to their line-out weakness. That's where the game was won and lost. O'Gara's two penalty misses near the end didn't help matters, though. He could have squared the match. Tim Stimpson missed two at the start of the game but he found his kicking boots when it mattered.

That sums it up. Leicester do what they have to do, when they have to do it. That's why there are the greatest club in Europe and likely to remain so.

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