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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The infamous Hand of Back incident of 2002

The infamous Hand of Back incident of 2002

The 2002 Heineken Cup Final will be remembered as a match that ended in a heap of controversy as an incident took place that tarnished a players reputation with Munster supporters for possibly the rest of time.

It was Munster up against the Leicester Tigers in the show piece of Northern Hemisphere rugby, with Leicester leading 15-9 with time on the clock virtually up.

Munster had one last chance of an attack, with a scrum deep in the opposition half. As Peter Stringer went to put the ball in, the referee was unsighted, which led to Leicester flanker Neil Back illegally slapping the ball back onto the safety of his side of the scrum.

It caused the turnover, which resulted in the game coming to an end shortly afterwards, and Leicester winning the Heineken Cup.

Leicester boss Dean Richards saw nothing wrong or illegal about what hed done, while captain Martin Johnson said that those type of things always happen, its just that this time, it was seen clearly on TV.

"If it gives an advantage to your team, obviously you're going to say 'great,' and if the opposition do it you won't be happy, but these things happen - just not always in the last minute of a major final."

The Munster press and fans were livid though, labelling Back a cheat, to which he responded remorsefully shortly afterwards.

"In a way, I wish I hadn't done it," said Back.

"I have to be honest about it. I don't like people thinking I'm a cheat. I don't want that slur. I'm not a cheat. I had a lot of mail over that incident, mostly negative. There were letters saying I was a cheat, some of them from Leicester fans, which was a bit hurtful.

If people wanted to make me feel bad about what happened, they have. That's disappointing and I know it upset my wife, Alison. If I thought there was any possible way of redressing it, I would consider it. I regret it because I don't like to think that, because of that one incident, there are people who think I'm a cheat."

"It has tarnished my reputation. In making any judgment, I would hope people will evaluate me over my whole career and not label me on that one moment. It happened spontaneously. I weighed the options up in a split-second and did what I did."


Time: 0:47
Note: Commentary from the smug Austin Healey, who is seen kicking the ball out at the end.
Thanks to the contributor who made the effort to get the clip up and submit the link.

Posted at 1:26 pm | 64 comments

Viewing 64 comments

Harry Oliver O'Neill January 27, 2009 2:03 pm

cool. first comment!on the vid though, that seemed a bit dirty from back, but that hate mail wasn't right in my opinion. :(

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Patrick January 27, 2009 2:05 pm

In fairness, i think Mick Galwey spoke for all the Munster players and fans when he said he doesn't hold it against neil back, if one of the munster lads had done it we'd love him for it! Leicester were the better team on the day and deserved to win the final (even though i was roaring all types of obsenities at the tv screen when it happened!). Neil Back was a deadly player,so fair dues to him. As for that little **** Healy that's a different story, i don't think anybody likes him!!

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guvna January 27, 2009 2:10 pm

And they call McCaw a cheat. He would never stoop to this level.

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andy January 27, 2009 2:16 pm

I'm with Neil Back on this one i'm afraid.

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eating is cheating January 27, 2009 2:24 pm

if i new there was a Heineken cup at stake i would of done this........in saying that im a munster fan!! strings done well to control himself theres about 3 secs where he has a clear shoot for a boot at his head!!!

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 2:27 pm

if you can penalise players after the game for foul play (high tackles, etc) based on video images you should also be able to disqualify a team.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 2:27 pm

lets call a spade a spade here, cheating is cheating, and it was a filthy thing to do. . IMO u can get away with cheating such as holding on and slowing down the ball but robbing the ball in a scrum is a little bit too much cheating to get away with.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 2:28 pm

As all great rugby players know, its only illegal if the ref sees it.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 2:31 pm

All i say is where are they now, Austin Healy is doing hair loss ads, Leicester are crap and Munster are current Euro Champs, top of the magners league and favourites by a mile for the next final. Nuff said!!

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 2:31 pm

Anyone who says that they could make a move like that and get away with it and NOT do it should not play competetive rugby. A flanks job is to push the boundaries. Sometimes you get caught, sometimes you don't. Nobody would complain had he done it and coped a penatly. They'd be sending him Thank You cards.

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Disco January 27, 2009 3:15 pm

It's a shame that an on-field incident would have repercussions for a player and his family, no matter what it was. Personally, whilst Back would probably disagree, I think this was a stroke of genius that saw Back come up with a solution to defend in his 22 against Munster in the dying minutes of a final. Had he been caught out, the story would have been different but ironically, I didn't remember that this was a final (thought it was a semi) but I did and always will remember the incident itself as a prime example of what differenciates a top back-rower from the rest. Instinct like this can't be taught.Neil Back was one of the best players of all time and a legend in his own generation. His career will be remembered for inspiring and motivating all rugby players around the world who stand under 6', myself included.

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Third Centre January 27, 2009 3:35 pm

Neil Back can't really complain about people calling him a cheat. Because thats what he did. If you're going to cheat you have to deal with all the scorn and criticism that comes with it. it was disgraceful. I know that people will say its how to win games etc etc but still there's no class or dignity involved in it and it'll tarnish your legacy.Same for Quinlan diving in last years final

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 3:56 pm

genius il keep that trick in mind

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 4:07 pm

dean richards saying there is nothing wrong or illegal about it is just bs, ... and johnson saying oh it just happens is also just avoiding the question stupid rugby politics just say 'we cheated and we won'!

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 4:22 pm

i have to agree with other people here. we as a young team lose a lot of games cause we lack the experience to play the ref! unfortunatly that is what u got to do if u want to maintain possession for example. not saying i like it, but that is the way it is

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Kember January 27, 2009 4:27 pm

Ha Ha, I remember this!As a neutrel I just thought 'you win some you lose some'.Am I the only person in the world who likes Healey? (although I couldn't listen to his commentary on this one as I'm watching this at work)At least the lad has a sense of humour...

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Milo_Cav January 27, 2009 4:30 pm

I don't see why some people are getting so hung up on this. Couldn't agree more that its a flankers trade to piss off scrum halfs (none more than the leprachaun stringer) and be crafty. It was subtle genius as the ref wasn't watching. Neil Back is one of the best flankers to play the game and is up there with the likes of Michael Jones and Serge Betsen and I say hats off for some smart play that helped win a game of rugby

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 4:37 pm

what a cheat

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 5:06 pm

Its a bit of a dirty thing to do, but on the other hand I wish I had thought of it years ago. I'm definitely going to try it. As all rugby players know, these things do happen, for Back to do it on such a big stage is a little stupid though.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 5:26 pm

alot more players have done this i just happens that this one was caught on tape its not like no one else wouldnt have done it to win the heineken cup i dont understand the hate mail part he was just trying to win any one else would have done it

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Blindcider January 27, 2009 5:44 pm

How many people would not bend the rules to win their team a HC final. thats right NONE!Healey is a Legend. Game breaker and genius that was sorely underused by England. The DVD 'Austin Healeys Rugby Nightmares' is great

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 6:10 pm

What's the ref saying to Stringer? (clearly he isn't English or Irish, but I haven't a clue)Unfortunately if illegal things happen and the ref doesn't see it, tough luck. As a Frenchman I'll always remember Quinlan vs Pelous, but this situation is more critical than last year's HC final. Pretty good reason for the introduction of the "white card" in rugby (each team gets a white card they can use once in the game to make a ref rethink his decision, by using TMOs and touch ref as witnesses).

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Mike January 27, 2009 6:29 pm

Sorry, I don't see the difference between doing what Back did at that scrum, and coming in from the side illegally and winning ball at a ruck or handling in the ruck and winning the ball, and getting away with it because the ref doesn't see it. All three are "cheating" in a sense that they are against the rules....but that happens every 5 minutes in a game. Being offside is cheating, closing the gaps in a lineout is cheating, etc...all penalty offenses are "cheating." This just stood out because it was a Cup final.

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yar im a pirate January 27, 2009 6:34 pm

I remember watching it and going super crazy, but its rugby!cheating is a massive part of the game!its the reason some players are so good!i wouldnt be surprised if somewhere in the rulebook it says "not illegal if ref doesnt see" lolthe shit back went through is ridiculous though

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billybob January 27, 2009 7:09 pm

Just an unfortunate miss by the ref.... Ospreys & munster should be a cracker!!!

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 7:15 pm

i agree with "eating is cheating" stringer should have smacked him one, then the ref would have had to blow it up and deal with the ruckus and then retake the scrum....anyway stringer has learned his leson, as for Back, i really admired him as a player, and history has proved that munster are good enough to win the HC munster fan

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Martin Johnson's an January 27, 2009 8:56 pm

To the French anonymous:I think the ref is French as well. He's saying, "I don't see. I don't see. Please, I don't see."People called 'Back' a cheat because there's no question about the fact that he cheated.The fact that he showed some humility and remorse about the issue when people called him out on it shows some stand-up character on his part.It was dirty plan, but it was still pretty cunning...

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 8:58 pm

*play (not plan)

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 9:47 pm

One of the best pieces of back row play ive seen. I thought it was the open side flankers job to cheat like mad anyway. Martin williams, George Smith and Richie Mccaw all cheats and all brilliant.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 10:03 pm

Tigers = cheats, Munster = cheats.Both = boring as fuck to watch.

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Anonymous January 27, 2009 10:06 pm

Now I never really thought much of neill back before this but like the great mick galway and peter clohessy say id think more of him if he didnt apologise.If he stood up and said "yes i did it and it worked" id still have some respect but the way he just backs down and says hes sorry does nothing for me. The second last play on his own 5 meter, he cheats, wins the game and says sorry. Whats the point of that? You cant replay the game or have the record books changed.

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MarkGDub January 27, 2009 10:32 pm

This sort of carry on has made Munster stronger. Perhaps the Munster style of less whinging and using slights of this kind as a motivation for improvement / revenge should be applied across more sections of sport, rugby included.And I'm Leinster man, not a Munster man.

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martin-offload January 27, 2009 10:45 pm

just another part of the game, who says munster would have scored a converted try anyway. they had failed to do so for the rest of the game. you get away with some, and you don't with others, thats what makes it so fun

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nacho January 27, 2009 11:05 pm

in a game these kind of things happen, it's part of rugby. even if one feels anger and thinks Back is a cheat, it was somehow genius.

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John January 28, 2009 12:05 am

Lets not forget Leicester had a perfectly good Geordan Murphy try disallowed in the first half while Munster had failed to score a try for the whole match up until this point, its unlikely the searing pace of John Kelly or Anthony Horgan was about to rip Leicester a new one before this brilliant piece of oppurtunism from Back. Its not as if Munster are above playing "dirty" or cheating anyway!

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iceman! January 28, 2009 12:25 am

I find it quite funny how most of the guys who are against Back seem to think that Munster would definately have one if it wasn't for that incident. Well, I can tell you now, I was at that game, and in all honestly, Munster were rubbish and didn't play up to their potential. They literally had made just the one line break all game and our defence had been rock solid throughout, so I firmly believe we would have won no matter what.At the end of the day, what Neil Back did was cheating, but that's part of being back row player. Is that incident really any different from lying on the wrong side to prevent quick ball so the opposition can score a certain try? Is it different to using your hands in the ruck to steal the ball when the opposition has a 5 man overlap with the tryline beckoning? Answer is no. And yet these elements are part of the flankers game - accept it. All great flankers (McCaw, Williams, Wallace, Smith etc) know that if you can give your team an advantage, you do it.Should also point out how subtle it was, nobody noticed until after the game - I couldn't have done that! And like a lot of people have said - if he played for your team, you'd love him for it! But we're Leicester and everyone hates us anyway :)PS Austin Healey what legend :)

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 12:35 am

it's only bad if the ref sees im afraid. thats what the best players in the world attitudes are and any other good rugby players out there will think the same

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Moods January 28, 2009 1:14 am

How many of you actually play or have played rugby to a decent level. He did what any good player would do and that is to spot an opportunity and maximise the success you can garner from it.To sit behind your P.C and talk so negatively about what was a brilliant piece of opportunism shows that you don't comprehend what it is to play the game.Rugby is about skullduggery, about territory, it's chess with muscles. It's not about being a the strongest guy in the world. It's about being the strongest and the smartest. Had Neil Back done that against me, I'd be livid. Were I on his side I'd be happy to have someone who could get away with something so audacious in such a pressurised environment on my team.My advice: get off your PC, get down your local rugby club, play some rugby and then tell me how dirty "Neil Back" is.

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iceman! January 28, 2009 2:13 am

my thoughts exactly moods! Well said

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vinniechan January 28, 2009 5:13 am

Cheers man I been looking for this for years.Mccaw is a cheat in a different way. He is constantly cheating and getting away with small stuff. Backy just went for the jack pot!!

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 7:18 am

This post is all about my idea of what Rugby is.The desire to win, the passion of the game, in a final, with milions of people with their eyes on that scrum, and he pull something like that.As result, they win, but after, he admited his remorse to everyone on the planet who love this game, as he certainly should, because it was wrong.but i who play Rugby, would probably do it also.

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Terrence January 28, 2009 8:03 am

Get over it now.. everything has been said and done.. Rugby is a game in the end.. do we love Rugby or people whining and complaining

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Flooz January 28, 2009 11:38 am

Cheat...but i think most teams would break the rules if they can win an H CUP

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Eoin January 28, 2009 11:40 am

In fairness, no way was it a case of "nobody noticed until after the game". There are very few complaints from Munster players, or those of us who have played rugby to a good standard. Besides, Leicester were the better team in that match and deserved to win it. In the long run, Munster may not be where they are now had they won this final.Every game has its defining moments and I do think it's a pity that this game will be forever remembered for this particular passage of play.

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 11:42 am

People aren't convinced that Munster would have scored had BAck not done that - in fact they probably wouldn't. However, had he been caught then Munster would have had a scrum in front of the posts against a 7 man pack.

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gee whillakers January 28, 2009 11:52 am

fuck a duckeveryone's put in their two bob for this one

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andy January 28, 2009 1:36 pm

Austin Healey is quality

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 1:47 pm

nobody ever says anything about scrum halfs not putting the ball in straight, this is just a nice get back for us flankers to use

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 2:02 pm

gotta say, i'm with neil. as a flanker myself, i'd probably do it if the opportunity arose :D. its a part of rugby, it happens.

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 2:05 pm

gosh, the commentator is an idiot.quote, 'look how white his teeth are!'Its his bloody mouthguard lol.

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Edward January 28, 2009 3:05 pm

I guess he knew it was his mouthguard given said commentator was also said player... (8-p)

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thedannyclayton January 28, 2009 3:31 pm

can I just confirm to the idiots on here that it is only cheating if you get caught...this is the refs problem now Back's. If a cheeky Irish player had done it then you'd probably have him on a pedestal

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thedannyclayton January 28, 2009 3:32 pm

*not.

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mattn January 28, 2009 6:04 pm

its from 'Austin Healeys rugby nightmares' and hes commentating.he needs to stop dancing.

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blue15 January 28, 2009 8:51 pm

o well, munster play awful rugby and cheat just as much as everyone else. well done neil!

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Anonymous January 28, 2009 10:18 pm

as far as i see it its only cheating if you're caught but thats me

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Dune January 28, 2009 10:32 pm

If I was a Munster supporter I would be angry that Munster were denied an opportunity to win the game by this incident. But eventually I would accept that the better team had won.

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Cheyanqu January 29, 2009 1:57 am

Shameful, and one of the things the TMO and TJs can now help with.That being said, Stringer should have given him the business. But then again, he was hoping the referee would have caught the foul play.

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Anonymous January 29, 2009 11:17 am

hmmmmmm, i think in any other game or at any other point in a game people would put it down to a bit of school boy antics, but in a cup final at the dying moments of the game......doesnt make it right to do it at any other point but i think it was made so big because of when it happened (cup final)

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Rhymni9 under 15's January 29, 2009 12:25 pm

iff you can get away with it do it i say.people who say McCaw is a cheat so what thats whats makes him such a great player, he gets away with it and gives his team the advantage.Wales for the 6 nations 2008 "D

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Ronan O Gara March 25, 2009 10:22 pm

I felt heartbroken when it happened. But look at us now we're favourites for the heineken cup and i am the highest point scorer of all time.If Quinny or one of the other boys had done we would have loved them but bottom line he didnt get caught so the heineken cup of 2002 was Leicester's.

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Anonymous November 12, 2009 12:46 pm

Tried this once. Got an uppercut from the scrum half, learnt my lesson.

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Dale January 22, 2013 8:27 pm

I'm a Munster fan, he cheated but i don't hold it against him. When push comes to shove, you do what you need to do to get the result you need. Is this really any worse than straying offside to get the tackle in early and turn it over? Same result.

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