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Premiership Rugby

Tigers can still win Premiership’ says Back

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

The former two-time Heineken champions' comprehensive 20-7 loss at the hands of Irish province Munster sent many sections of the media into overdrive, with plenty of scribes willing to pen obituaries for the team who have set the standard in English and European rugby during the past five years.

But suggest such a notion to Back and you're predictably going to get pretty short shrift for your trouble. The 34-year-old didn't become England's most-capped flanker, a two-time Lion and a Grand Slam winner by listening to the media ("With the greatest respect, journalists don't generally know what they're on about") and prefers to take his counsel from more expert sources.

"We're obviously disappointed at losing the title – and the manner of the defeat.

"It was a huge match for the club and we just didn't go out there and perform on our home turf. We learnt a lot of lessons from the game but unfortunately, it's all too late now as we're out of that particular competition. We've just got to pick ourselves up and concentrate on the rest of the season.

"As you'd expect, we've had a series of meetings over the past couple of days since the loss, aired a few opinions, sorted a few things out and that should help us renew our focus.

"But it's certainly not the 'end of an era' for Leicester and if anyone wants to believe that it is, then, fine, more fool them.

"OK, we've won a lot of trophies in recent years and we've lost a big game but are still in the race for the Premiership title.

"We've got four Zurich games left and if we win them all, we'll have a really good chance of defending our domestic trophy.

"Most other clubs would be reasonably happy with our record this season – semi-finalists in the Powergen Cup, quarter-finalists in the Heineken Cup and still in the hunt for the Premiership title – but because we judge ourselves by the highests standards, we're far from satisfied."

It's also worth remembering that England have made heavier demands on their players than ever before during the current season, with weekly squad sessions effectively meaning that the top players' time at their clubs has been significantly reduced – something that has adversely affected the international-rich Tigers more than most.

Back concedes that making it into the top three will not be easy, particularly without the likes of key men like Austin Healey whose recent comeback lasted just two games before a heavy tackle from Munster centre Rob Henderson caused knee ligament damage – an injury that has seen him ruled out of England's summer tour Down Under.

"Austin's injury is really unfortunate for him as he'd worked really hard to fight his way back to fitness after his Achilles' problem," said Back. "That's going to be a tough thing to deal with mentally, but he's a strong enough character to get back on track again.

"But that's rugby and now we have to regroup and use the remaining personnel to carry out our objective. I've got the utmost faith in the guys who will have to step up to take the place of our various injury victims in what is going to be a very, very tough run-in to the end of the season."

Currently at fourth place in the table behind Gloucester, Sharks and Wasps, Leicester have a huge task on their hands, one that is made all the harder by their Champion status.

"For all our remaining opponents, playing against Tigers is going to be one of the biggest games of their seasons – a bumper day for spectators – and they're really going to be up for it. That's something we have to deal with."

Next up for the Tigers is a visit to The Stoop to face Harlequins, a game that has been sold out for weeks such is the anticipation ahead of Leicester's appearance.

Of course, once the domestic season finishes, Back and his Grand Slam-winning England team-mates will be headlong into another hunt for glory, this time for rugby's greatest prize, the William Webb Ellis Cup.

"I've known exactly what the requirements are for the past 18 months now," he said. "Three weeks off, a trip to New Zealand and Australia and then straight into a series of warm-up games for the World Cup campaign in October and November."

Meanwhile, Back has another potentially gruelling date to add to the list, on May 14 at the Walkabout bar in central London when the flanker and several of his England team-mates, including Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and Ben Cohen will be taking part in a 'meet the fans' evening organised as part of Back's Testimonial season.

With lashings of subsidised beer – courtesy of Tetley's – and plenty of uncensored banter between fans and the players, it promises to be an entertaining and novel experience.

"It's shaping up to be a great evening," said Back. "I know tickets are selling fast – and all the guys involved are ready to take a bit of stick from the audience."

By Justin O'Regan



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