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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK
Munster agony on big day
Tim Stimpson congratulates Geordan Murphy on his try
Munster's despair was a intense as Leicester's joy

If Munster fans thought they could lift the gloom of Roy Keane's World Cup departure, they walked away from the Millennium Stadium not only disappointed, but utterly disillusioned.

To lose a Heineken Cup final once is frustrating, to lose it twice must surely be excruciating.

But so it proved in Cardiff on Saturday, when, despite a bone-shattering performance from the Munster pack, they again failed to lift the trophy, rekindling less-than-fond memories of the 2000 final when they crashed out to Northampton by a single point.

Make no mistake, this was an epic occasion. In all respects the ruby on show was big - big men, big tackles and big tries.

All that, and the small matter of Neil Back's passable impression of a Munster scrum-half.

In the closing moments and in the game's final scrum, Back's flick of the wrist sent the ball spinning out of Peter Stringer's hands and under the foot of Leicester hooker Dorian West.

The Tigers cleared their lines and the game was over.

Leicester's Neil Back celebrates the victory
Neil Back (left) had a controversial role to play for Leicester

Television replays clearly showed Back palming the ball, illegally, but neither the referee or touch judges picked it up.

Had he been caught he almost certainly would have been sin-binned, but it does not necessarily follow that Munster would have scored.

For the previous 80 minutes they had tried and failed.

In comparison the Tigers touched down twice through Austin Healey and Irishman Geordan Murphy - the latter doing his best to shatter any thoughts his countrymen had entertained of enjoying the craic long into the night.

Back's action was gamesmanship, nothing more. Had he been given his marching orders, the Tigers would simply have further dipped into their pot of talent.

Former All Black legend Josh Kronfeld would certainly have entered the fray - probably for a member of the back-line.

No-one could ever say, with any certainty, that Munster would have got any closer to the line.

The Back controversy aside, the match should - and will - be remembered as yet another of Leicester's crowning days.

They may have lost their Zurich Championship title last weekend, but they know how to raise their game when it matters most.

Richards' men are not only the first to win back-to-back titles, they are the first team ever to win the Heineken Cup twice.

And it will surprise no-one that they firmly believe they can hold onto it again next season.

But spare a thought for Munster.

A victory would have sealed not only a memorable day for the club, but also provided a fitting farewell for three of their stalwarts: lock Mick Galwey, prop Peter Clohessy and coach Declan Kidney.

None will be returning next season - Clohessy has retired, Galwey has accepted a back seat role and Kidney is coach of the national team - and yet all should leave Cardiff with their heads held high.

The 2002 final again proved that Heineken Cup rugby is fast outshining its international counterpart, the Six Nations.

It is a fast-paced, big-hitting and passionate competition and is certainly less predictable, though Leicester fans with a wry smile, may opt to disagree.

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 ON THIS STORY
Leicester flanker Neil Back
"We had to really dig in at the end"

Heineken Cup final

Matt Dawson

Parker-Pen final

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