20 years after rugby’s most famous playing act

Butler: I dare not look at what I wrote in the observer…although I think he had already been identified at that point. I’m not sure what the feeling of outrage was, but I am aware that [Munster flanker] Alan Quinlan tried something similar a few years later. I guess the general feeling was, ‘Oh no, he’s Munster.’ Wherever Munster went, they seemed to fall short somehow. The fate of rugby seemed against them and they came so close on so many occasions and this was just the latest in a long line of incidents that denied them. I guess the general sympathy was with them, which meant everyone was like, ‘Neil Back, you little devil, that’s terrible for the game.’ In reality, however, everyone knew it too: ‘Well…it happens, doesn’t it?’

healey: If you ask Backy if he would do it again, he definitely would.

behind: I don’t regret it at all. I have played in many games where things have happened that are against the law of the game and yet are part of the game. And you don’t stop at them. [Munster captain] Mick Galwey said afterwards that he didn’t think that would affect the result.

richards: I have never spoken to Joël Jutge about it. An umpire cannot see everything. Can’t blame the referee at all. I know Backy got death threats from Munster fans and all sorts of things, which was totally over the top, but it shows the passion of the Munster boys. Still, death threats are a bit of an OTT.

behind: Even with a TMO today, they don’t make all the right decisions and I don’t know what you’d have against you. A penalty? A yellow card? Lawrence Dallaglio and I were eliminated by England against New Zealand a year later, in their own backyard. I thought I would disappoint myself, my team and my country. But New Zealand failed to score against 13.

These days, television match officials can be much more proactive. That makes the chances of another Hand of Back extremely slim. However, he will remain a piece of Tigers folklore. And while the 2002 final was another bitterly painful experience for Munster, they did win the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008.

Richard: In today’s game, you’d like to think they wouldn’t get away with not announcing their team, either. We feel particularly aggrieved about that.

Ellis: It was the last game of the season, so I don’t think we analyzed it in detail. I’m sure we discussed it over a few beers.

Garforth: We had a good drink afterwards, I remember. My wife and children had come and I think we were all staying at Celtic Manor. We came back and my wife put the kids to bed. I finally arrived around 7am; the kids were in the bathroom and i went in and she gave me some p——ing. The wife told me to keep an eye on the kids while she fixed things up, and when she came back, I was in the bathroom with them, fully dressed. The kids thought it was great, but my wife wasn’t too happy.

Crossbar: Neil Back has since said that it has made me a better player, and the only bad thing that came of it from his point of view was that he had to polish two Heineken Cup winners’ medals instead of one. I never met or talked to him, but I got a letter from him a few seasons later. He was very dismissive. He was putting together some pieces for his biography and wanted me to make a contribution: “I’d love to hear what you think about your experiences in the Heineken Cup Final in 2002 when we played you in Cardiff and I’d appreciate it if you would.” Get in touch with me.’ I thought, ‘Is this guy real?’ The letter made no reference to the incident. He certainly wasn’t even remotely apologetic about it, and he isn’t to this day. His attitude, and many others would agree, is that players try things at rucks, scrums, line-outs or whatever; some are successful and some are not. Anyway, I never replied to the letter. There is no contribution of mine in Neil Back’s autobiography.

behind: I went to practice after I finished playing and it was like I started early because Peter Stringer never let that happen to him again and Munster won it a couple more times.

Alan Quinlan (Munster’s companion): Seven years later I tried it in a league match against Ulster at Thomond Park. Isaac Boss was Ulster’s scrum-half. He was a little hesitant to put it on and the temptation got the better of me…unfortunately the assistant referee caught me and Alain Rolland gave me a penalty. Ian Humphreys kicked our 22 and we stole the lineout anyway, so no damage. I had a bit of mischief in me when I played.

Wallace: When we finally won, there was a huge sense of relief, especially for our support and how amazing they were, following us en masse to the games. It was almost hypnotic in the sense that we entered the final third. [against Biarritz in 2006] saying, ‘We can’t lose this. In the end, it was more of a relief that we finally got over the line than sheer joy. Losing those two finals was definitely a huge motivator, both for the team and for the fans.

Garforth: It hasn’t clouded my memory of the day at all. It’s the last thing on my mind. On a big day like that, it had never been done before, and I suspect never will be done again. Backy gets asked a lot about it, but I don’t even know. Raising the cup at the end was one of the best moments as I knew it would be the end of my career. The three of us who raised the trophy [Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill and Garforth, the ‘ABC Club’] they had been through a lot together.

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