A Brief History Of Heineken Cup
The whole event was launched in the summer of 1995 on the initiative of the then Five Nations Committee - now the Six - in order to provide a new level of cross border competition. Twelve teams from Ireland, France, Wales, Italy and Romania took part in the 1995 /96 tournament, competing in four Pools of three with the group winners going directly into the semi-finals. In the final, played in front of a crowd of 21,800 at Cardiff Arms Park on 6 January, 1996, Toulouse required extra time before beating Cardiff 21-18 to become the first champions of Europe.
While that first tournament consisted of just 15 matches, England and Scotland joined the competition in 1996/7 to make it a truly European event. It had required all the resolve and optimism of the European Rugby Cup Ltd directors to initially keep the tournament afloat but by Year 2 the hard groundwork had been done and the top quality rugby had taken a grip on those players and supporters.
Around 350,000 spectators had gone through the turnstiles for earlier matches that season but by 1997/8 that had risen to almost half a million with the introduction of teams meeting on a home and away basis in the Pool rounds. The five Pools of four guaranteed each team a minimum of six games and the three quarter-final play-off matches all added up to a bumper 70-match tournament, Bath and Brive meeting three times in all.
The voluntary absence of the English clubs in season 1998/9 meant Bath were unable to defend the crown they won in that 19-18 thriller, the 16 remaining teams taking part in four Pools of four. French clubs filled top spot in three of the groups but this was to be Ulster's greatest triumph in their history as they beat Toulouse (twice) and reigning French champions Stade Francais on their way to a fairytale final win in Dublin against surprise French finalists Colomiers.
For the first time four different nations - England, Ireland, France and Wales - made it through to the 1999/2000 semi-finals. And the new Millennium saw the Northampton end over a century of patient waiting for their first major title as a record crowd of 68,441 turned Twickenham into a carnival as Pat Lam's patched up side beat Munster 9-8 in a gripping final.
England supplied two of the semi-finalists - the Tigers and Gloucester - with Munster and French champions Stade Francais also reaching the last four. Both semi-finals were tight affairs, Munster going down by a point 16-15 to Stade Francais in Lille and Leicester beating Gloucester 19-15 at Vicarage Road, Watford. The final, at Parc des Princes, Paris, attracted a bumper 44,000-strong crowd with the Tigers 34-30 winners.
2002 and Leicester Tigers clinch that historic second title in possibly the most gripping and absorbing final of the lot, beating Munster, who suffered Heineken Cup final heartbreak for the second time in three years 15-9.
2003 and Toulouse the Cup winners in its inaugural 1995-96 season secured their second Heineken Cup title with a hard-fought 22-17 win over fellow French side Perpignan in Dublin in the eighth Heineken Cup final.
2004 and the ninth Heineken Cup final was a battle of the champions. Toulouse, current Heineken Cup holders versus London Wasps, Parker Pen Challenge Cup holders and Guinness Premiership champions. And the game lived up to its billing with the scores tied at 20 all with just seconds to go, Wasps broke away to score a match winning try and conversion.
2005 Toulouse have been crowned European champions for the third time after they defeated Stade Francais 18-12 after extra time in the nail-biting Heineken Cup tenth anniversary final at Murrayfield. The match was tied 12-12 after normal time but a penalty from Frederic Michalak and a fine drop goal in extra-time deprived Stade of their first European Cup, having already lost in the 2001 final to Leicester.
2006 Munster made it third time lucky – and put the heartbreak of losing finalists in 2000 and 2002 firmly behind them – as they were roared on by their passionate army of traveling fans to a 23-19 Heineken Cup final triumph over Biarritz Olympique at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 20 May, 2006.
The tens of thousands of flag-waving and singing Munster supporters made the Cardiff crowd of 74,452 a sea of red and created a magnificent atmosphere that tested the hinges of the stadium’s retractable roof to the limit as Trevor Halstead and Heineken Man-of-the-Match Peter Stringer crossed for tries and Ronan O’Gara, the tournament’s leading scorer, added 13 points with his trusty boot.
Previous Winners Of Heineken Cup
Stade de France
Parc des Princes
Cardiff Arms Pk
Cardiff Arms Pk
Toulouse 21 – 19 Biarritz
Leinster 19 – 16 Leicester Tigers
Munster 16-13 Toulouse
London Wasps 25 - 9 Leicester Tigers
Munster 23-19 Biarritz
Toulouse 18-12 Stade Francais
London Wasps 27 - 20 Toulouse
Toulouse 22 - 17Perpignan
Leicester Tigers 15 - 9 Munster
Leicester Tigers 34 - 30 Stade Francais
Northampton Saints 9 v 8 Munster
Ulster 21 - 6 Colomiers
Bath 19 - 18 Brive
Brive 28 - 9 Leicester
Toulouse 21 - 18 Cardiff