European Rugby Champions Cup

Last updated

Heineken Champions Cup
Current season or competition:
Rugby football current event.svg 2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup
Heineken Champions Cup CoreLogo 3C CMYK OnLight.png
Sport Rugby union
Inaugural season 1995–96 as Heineken Cup
2014–15 as Champions Cup
Chairman Simon Halliday
Number of teams24
NationsFlag of England.svg  England
Flag of France.svg  France
IRFU flag.svg Ireland
Flag of Italy.svg  Italy
Flag of Scotland.svg  Scotland
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales
Holders Flag of England.svg Exeter Chiefs (1st title) (2019–20)
Most titles IRFU flag.svg Leinster
Flag of France.svg Toulouse (4 titles)
Website Official website
Related competitions European Rugby Challenge Cup
European Rugby Continental Shield

The European Rugby Champions Cup (known as the Heineken Champions Cup for sponsorship reasons) is an annual rugby union tournament organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the top-tier competition for clubs whose countries' national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship. Clubs qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup via their final positions in their respective national/regional leagues (English Premiership, French Top 14, and Pro14) or via winning the second-tier Challenge Cup; those that do not qualify are instead eligible to compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.

Contents

Between 1995 and 2014, the competition was known as the Heineken Cup and was run by European Rugby Cup. Following disagreements between its shareholders over the structure and governance of the competition, it was taken over by EPCR and its name was changed to the European Rugby Champions Cup, without title sponsorship. Heineken returned as sponsor for the 2018–19 season, resulting in the competition being known as the Heineken Champions Cup.

Exeter Chiefs are the current holders of the title, having won their first title by beating Racing 92 in the 2020 final. Leinster Rugby and Toulouse have both won the competition a record four times.

History

Heineken Cup

1995–1999

The Heineken Cup logo used until 2013 Heineken cup.png
The Heineken Cup logo used until 2013

The Heineken Cup was launched in the summer of 1995 on the initiative of the then Five Nations Committee to provide a new level of professional cross border competition. [1] Twelve sides representing Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and France competed in four pools of three with the group winners going directly into the semi-finals. [2] English and Scottish teams did not take part in the inaugural competition. [3] From an inauspicious beginning in Romania, where Toulouse defeated Farul Constanţa 54–10 in front of a small crowd, the competition gathered momentum and crowds grew. Toulouse went on to become the first European cup winners, eventually beating Cardiff in extra time in front of a crowd of 21,800 at Cardiff Arms Park. [2]

Clubs from England and Scotland joined the competition in 1996–97. [4] European rugby was further expanded with the advent of the European Challenge Cup for teams that did not qualify for the Heineken Cup. The Heineken Cup now had 20 teams divided into four pools of five. [5] Only Leicester and Brive reached the knock-out stages with 100 per cent records and ultimately made it to the final, Cardiff and Toulouse falling in the semi-finals. After 46 matches, Brive beat Leicester 28–9 in front of a crowd of 41,664 at Cardiff Arms Park, the match watched by an estimated television audience of 35 million in 86 countries. [5]

The season 1997–98 saw the introduction of a home and away format in the pool games. [6] The five pools of four teams, which guaranteed each team a minimum of six games, and the three quarter-final play-off matches all added up to a 70-match tournament. Brive reached the final again but were beaten late in the game by Bath with a penalty kick. Ironically, English clubs had decided to withdraw from the competition in a dispute over the way it was run. [3]

Without English clubs, the 1998–99 tournament revolved around France, Italy and the Celtic nations. Sixteen teams took part in four pools of four. French clubs filled the top positions in three of the groups and for the fourth consecutive year a French club, in the shape of Colomiers from the Toulouse suburbs, reached the final. Despite this it was to be Ulster's year as they beat Toulouse (twice) and reigning French champions Stade Français on their way to the final at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Ulster then carried home the trophy after a 21–6 win over Colomiers in front of a capacity 49,000 crowd. [6]

1999–2004

English clubs returned in 1999–00. The pool stages were spread over three months to allow the competition to develop alongside the nations' own domestic competitions, and the knockout stages were scheduled to take the tournament into the early spring. For the first time clubs from four nations – England, Ireland, France and Wales – made it through to the semi-finals. Munster's defeat of Toulouse in Bordeaux ended France's record of having contested every final and Northampton Saints' victory over Llanelli made them the third English club to make it to the final. The competition was decided with a final between Munster and Northampton, with Northampton coming out on top by a single point to claim their first major honour. [4]

England supplied two of the 2000–01 semi-finalists – Leicester Tigers and Gloucester – with Munster and French champions Stade Français also reaching the last four. Both semi-finals were close, Munster going down by a point 16–15 to Stade Français in Lille and the Tigers beating Gloucester 19–15 at Vicarage Road, Watford. The final, at Parc des Princes, Paris, attracted a crowd of 44,000 and the result was in the balance right up until the final whistle, but Leicester walked off 34–30 winners.

Munster reached the 2001–02 final with quarter-final and semi-final victories on French soil against Stade Français and Castres. Leicester pipped Llanelli in the last four, after the Scarlets had halted Leicester's 11-match Heineken Cup winning streak in the pool stages. A record crowd saw Leicester become the first side to successfully defend their title. [1]

From 2002, the European Challenge Cup winner now automatically qualified for the Heineken Cup. Toulouse's victory over French rivals Perpignan in 2003 meant that they joined Leicester as the only teams to win the title twice. [1] Toulouse saw a 19-point half-time lead whittled away as the Catalans staged a dramatic comeback in a match in which the strong wind and showers played a major role, but Toulouse survived to win.

In 2003–04 the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) voted to create regions to play in the Celtic League and represent Wales in European competition. Henceforth, Wales entered regional sides rather than the club sides that had previously competed. English side London Wasps had earned their first final appearance by beating Munster 37–32 in a Dublin semi-final while Toulouse triumphed 19–11 in an all-French contest with Biarritz in a packed Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. The 2004 final saw Wasps defeat defending champions Toulouse 27–20 at Twickenham to win the Heineken Cup for the first time. The match was widely hailed as one of the best finals. With extra time looming at 20–20, a late opportunist try by scrum half Rob Howley settled the contest.

2005–2014

The tenth Heineken Cup final saw the inaugural champions Toulouse battle with rising stars Stade Français when Murrayfield was the first Scottish venue to host the final. [7] Fabien Galthié's Paris side led until two minutes from the end of normal time before Frédéric Michalak levelled the contest for Toulouse with his first penalty strike. He repeated this in the initial stages of extra time and then sealed his side's success with a superb opportunist drop-goal. Toulouse became the first team to win three Heineken Cup titles. [7]

In 2006, Munster defeated Biarritz in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 23–19. [8] It was third time lucky for the Irish provincial side, who had previously been denied the ultimate prize twice by Northampton and Leicester.

London Wasps celebrate after winning the 2006-07 Heineken Cup Wasps HEC Final 2007.JPG
London Wasps celebrate after winning the 2006–07 Heineken Cup

The 2006–07 Heineken Cup would be distributed to over 100 countries following Pitch International's securing of the rights. [9] That season was the first time in the history of the competition that two teams went unbeaten in pool play, with both Llanelli Scarlets and Biarritz doing so. Biarritz went into their final match at Northampton Saints with a chance to become the first team ever to score bonus-point wins in all their pool matches, but were only able to score two of the four tries needed. Leicester defeated Llanelli Scarlets to move into the final at Twickenham, with the possibility of winning a Treble of championships on the cards, having already won the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the English Premiership. However, Wasps won the final 25 points to 9 in front of a tournament record 81,076 fans. [10]

During competition there was uncertainty over the future of the tournament after the 2006–07 season as French clubs had announced that they would not take part because of fixture congestion following the Rugby World Cup and an ongoing dispute between English clubs and the RFU. [11] [12] It was speculated that league two teams might compete the next season, the RFU saying "If this situation is not resolved, the RFU owes it to the sport to keep this competition going...We have spoken to our FDR clubs, and if they want to compete we will support them.". [13] A subsequent meeting led to the announcement that the tournament would be played in 2007–08, with clubs from all the six nations. On 20 May it was announced that both French and English top-tier teams would be competing [14]

In the 2008 final, Munster won the cup for their second time ever by beating Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Leinster won the title in 2009 in their first ever final after beating Munster in the semi-final in front of a then world record Rugby Union club match attendance in Croke Park. They beat the Leicester Tigers in the final at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. They also beat Harlequins 6–5 in the quarter-finals at Twickenham Stoop, in the famous Bloodgate scandal.

In the 2010 final, Toulouse defeated Biarritz Olympique in the Stade de France to claim their fourth title, a Heineken Cup record.

The 16th Heineken Cup tournament in 2011 resulted in an Irish province lifting the title for the fourth time in six years as Leinster recorded their second triumph in the competition. They defeated former multiple Heineken Cup winners Leicester and Toulouse in the quarter- and semi-finals. At the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, in front of 72,000 spectators, [15] Leinster fought back from a 22–6 half-time deficit in the final against Northampton Saints, scoring 27 unanswered points in 26 second-half minutes, winning 33–22 in one of the tournament's greatest comebacks. Jonathan Sexton won the man-of-the-match award, having scored 28 of Leinster's points total, which included two tries, three conversions, and four penalties.

Leinster successfully defended their crown in 2012 at Twickenham, eclipsing fellow Irish province and former champions Ulster 42–14 to establish the highest Heineken Cup final winning margin. The performance broke a number of Heineken Cup Final records. [16] Leinster became only the second team to win back-to-back titles, and the only team ever to win three championships in four years. In addition, the game had the highest attendance at a final (81,774), the highest number of tries (5) and points (42) scored by one team and the highest points difference (28).

The final edition of the tournament as constituted as the Heineken Cup was won for a second time by Toulon at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in May 2014.

Champions Cup

2014–18

The tournament began on 17 October 2014, with Harlequins playing Castres Olympique in the first ever Champions Cup game. Toulon retained their title, beating Clermont 24–18 in a repeat of the 2013 Heineken Cup Final, thereby becoming the first club to win three European titles in a row. [17]

Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, all Round 1 games due to take place in France that weekend were called off, along with the Round 2 fixture between Stade Français and Munster. [18] [19] Rescheduling of some matches was difficult, partly caused by fixture congestion due to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. [20] [21] [22]

Saracens won their first title defeating Racing 92 in Lyon 21–9 in 2016 final and followed it up with their second in 2017, beating Clermont 28–17 in Edinburgh.

In 2017–18 season, Leinster overcame the "pool of death" consisting of Glasgow Warriors (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the Pro14), Montpellier (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the TOP 14) and Exeter (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the English Premiership), beating all three teams both home and away. Leinster went on to face the back to back Champions Saracens, dispatching a defeat at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, to set up a semi-final against reigning Pro12 champions Scarlets. [23] Leinster defeated Scarlets to face Racing 92 in Champions Cup Final in Bilbao. Leinster defeated Racing 92 by a scoreline of 15–12, becoming only the second team in history to earn four European titles. [24] Leinster also won the Pro14 title to become the first Pro14 side to win such a double of trophies. [25]

Heineken Champions Cup

2018–present

Saracens won the 2018–19 competition, defeating defending champions Leinster 20–10 in the final. [26] Saracens were in breach of the Premiership salary cap during this edition and the previous year, in which they qualified for the 2018–19 cup. [27] [28] However, the EPCR have confirmed that Premiership ruling will not affect the results of the Heineken Champions Cup for 2018–19 or previous years, stating: "The Saracens decision is based on Gallagher Premiership Rugby regulations and does not affect the club's European record or current status in the Heineken Champions Cup." [29] There were no Saracens representatives at the launch of the 2019–20 competition, held in Cardiff on 6 November 2019. EPCR released a statement saying they were "disappointed to learn of Saracens' decision to make their club representatives unavailable for today's official 2019–20 season launch". [30]

Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic the 2020/2021 competition took on a revised format.

2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup

Format

Qualification

Typically, a total of 24 teams qualify for the competition, the same number as used to qualify for the Heineken Cup. 23 of the 24 teams qualify automatically based on position in their respective leagues.

Team distribution is typiacally:


Competition

Group stage

For the pool stage teams are placed into pools via a draw. The teams are ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into four tiers. Teams are then drawn from the tiers into pools at random, with the restriction that no team will be drawn in the same pool as another team from the same league and tier. [32]


Following the completion of the pool stage, 8 teams qualify for the knock-out stage. [33]

Knock-out stage

The eight quarter-finalists are seeded from 1–8 based on performance in their respective pool. The quarter-final are unbracketed, and follow the standard 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format, as found in the Heineken Cup. [34]

The winners of the quarter-finals will contest the two semi-finals, Up to and including the 2014–15 season, matches and home country advantage were determined by a draw by EPCR.

In 2015–16, EPCR decided to put a new procedure in place. In lieu of the draw that used to determine the semi-final pairing, EPCR announced that a fixed semi-final bracket would be set in advance, and that the home team would be designated based on "performances by clubs during the pool stages as well as the achievement of a winning a quarter-final match away from home". Semi-final matches must have been played at a neutral ground in the designated home team's country.

Since 2018–19, the higher-seeded team will have home country/venue advantage for each semi-final regardless of whether they won their quarter-final at home or on the road. [35] The EPRC may now also use its discretion to allow semi-finals to be played at a qualified club's home venue. [36]

The winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which will be held in May each season. [37]

2020 / 2021 Season

Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic the 2020/2021 competition took on a revised format.

2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup

Finals

Key
Dagger-14-plain.pngMatch was won during extra time
Heineken Cup era
SeasonWinnersScoreRunners-upVenueAttReferee
1995–96 Flag of France.svg Toulouse 21–18 Dagger-14-plain.png Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Cardiff Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 21,800 IRFU flag.svg David McHugh (Ireland)
1996–97 Flag of France.svg Brive 28–9 Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 41,664 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Derek Bevan (Wales)
1997–98 Flag of England.svg Bath 19–18 Flag of France.svg Brive Flag of France.svg Parc Lescure, Bordeaux 36,500 Flag of Scotland.svg Jim Fleming (Scotland)
1998–99 IRFU flag.svg Ulster 21–6 Flag of France.svg Colomiers IRFU flag.svg Lansdowne Road, Dublin 49,000 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Clayton Thomas (Wales)
1999–00 Flag of England.svg Northampton Saints 9–8 IRFU flag.svg Munster Flag of England.svg Twickenham, London 68,441 Flag of France.svg Joël Dumé (France)
2000–01 Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers 34–30 Flag of France.svg Stade Français Flag of France.svg Parc des Princes, Paris 44,000 IRFU flag.svg David McHugh (Ireland)
2001–02 Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers 15–9 IRFU flag.svg Munster Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 74,600 Flag of France.svg Joël Jutge (France)
2002–03 Flag of France.svg Toulouse 22–17 Flag of France.svg Perpignan IRFU flag.svg Lansdowne Road, Dublin 28,600 Flag of England.svg Chris White (England) Sub off.svg 12'
Flag of England.svg Tony Spreadbury (England) Sub on.svg 12'
2003–04 Flag of England.svg London Wasps 27–20 Flag of France.svg Toulouse Flag of England.svg Twickenham, London 73,057 IRFU flag.svg Alain Rolland (Ireland)
2004–05 Flag of France.svg Toulouse 18–12 Dagger-14-plain.png Flag of France.svg Stade Français Flag of Scotland.svg Murrayfield, Edinburgh 51,326 Flag of England.svg Chris White (England)
2005–06 IRFU flag.svg Munster 23–19 Flag of France.svg Biarritz Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 74,534 Flag of England.svg Chris White (England)
2006–07 Flag of England.svg London Wasps 25–9 Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers Flag of England.svg Twickenham, London 81,076 IRFU flag.svg Alan Lewis (Ireland)
2007–08 IRFU flag.svg Munster 16–13 Flag of France.svg Toulouse Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 74,500 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2008–09 IRFU flag.svg Leinster 19–16 Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers Flag of Scotland.svg Murrayfield, Edinburgh 66,523 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2009–10 Flag of France.svg Toulouse 21–19 Flag of France.svg Biarritz Flag of France.svg Stade de France, Saint-Denis 78,962 Flag of England.svg Wayne Barnes (England)
2010–11 IRFU flag.svg Leinster 33–22 Flag of England.svg Northampton Saints Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 72,456 Flag of France.svg Romain Poite (France)
2011–12 IRFU flag.svg Leinster 42–14 IRFU flag.svg Ulster Flag of England.svg Twickenham, London 81,774 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2012–13 Flag of France.svg Toulon 16–15 Flag of France.svg Clermont IRFU flag.svg Aviva Stadium, Dublin 50,198 IRFU flag.svg Alain Rolland (Ireland)
2013–14 Flag of France.svg Toulon 23–6 Flag of England.svg Saracens Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 67,586 IRFU flag.svg Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Champions Cup era
SeasonWinnersScoreRunners-upVenueAtt.Referee
2014–15 Flag of France.svg Toulon 24–18 Flag of France.svg Clermont Flag of England.svg Twickenham, London 56,622 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2015–16 Flag of England.svg Saracens 21–9 Flag of France.svg Racing 92 Flag of France.svg Grand Stade de Lyon, Lyon 58,017 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2016–17 Flag of England.svg Saracens 28–17 Flag of France.svg Clermont Flag of Scotland.svg Murrayfield, Edinburgh 55,272 Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2017–18 IRFU flag.svg Leinster 15–12 Flag of France.svg Racing 92 Flag of Spain.svg San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao 52,282 Flag of England.svg Wayne Barnes (England)
2018–19 Flag of England.svg Saracens 20–10 IRFU flag.svg Leinster Flag of England.svg St James' Park, Newcastle 51,930 Flag of France.svg Jérôme Garcès (France)
2019–20 Flag of England.svg Exeter Chiefs 31–27 Flag of France.svg Racing 92 Flag of England.svg Ashton Gate, Bristol 0 [lower-alpha 1] Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Nigel Owens (Wales)
2020–21 Flag of England.svg Twickenham Stadium, London [lower-alpha 2]
2021–22 Flag of France.svg Stade de Marseille, Marseille
2022–23 Flag of England.svg Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London

Wins by club

ClubWonRunner-upYears wonYears runner-up
Flag of France.svg Toulouse 42 1995–96, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2009–10 2003–04, 2007–08
IRFU flag.svg Leinster 41 2008–09, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2017–18 2018–19
Flag of England.svg Saracens 31 2015–16, 2016–17, 2018–19 2013–14
Flag of France.svg Toulon 30 2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15
Flag of England.svg Leicester Tigers 23 2000–01, 2001–02 1996–97, 2006–07, 2008–09
IRFU flag.svg Munster 22 2005–06, 2007–08 1999–00, 2001–02
Flag of England.svg Wasps 20 2003–04, 2006–07
Flag of France.svg Brive 11 1996–97 1997–98
Flag of England.svg Northampton Saints 11 1999–00 2010–11
IRFU flag.svg Ulster 11 1998–99 2011–12
Flag of England.svg Bath 10 1997–98
Flag of England.svg Exeter Chiefs 10 2019–20
Flag of France.svg Clermont 03 2012–13, 2014–15, 2016–17
Flag of France.svg Racing 92 03 2015–16, 2017–18, 2019–20
Flag of France.svg Biarritz 02 2005–06, 2009–10
Flag of France.svg Stade Français 02 2000–01, 2004–05
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Cardiff 01 1995–96
Flag of France.svg Colomiers 01 1998–99
Flag of France.svg Perpignan 01 2002–03

Wins by nation

NationWinnersRunners-up
Flag of England.svg England 105
Flag of France.svg France 916
IRFU flag.svg Ireland 74
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Wales 01
Flag of Scotland.svg Scotland 00
Flag of Italy.svg Italy 00

Controversy

Disagreements over structure & governance

English and French rugby union clubs had long held concerns over the format and structure of the Heineken Cup organised by European Rugby Cup (ERC), predominantly in relation to the distribution of funds and an imbalance in the qualification process. [39] Some proposals had been made that, in future, rather than Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy each sending their top-placed teams in the Pro14 to the Heineken Cup, the top teams from the league as a whole should be sent, regardless of nationality. This founding principle was eventually conceded however, when it was agreed that the top-placed teams from the four should participate in the new European competition. [40]

In June 2012, following that year's final, Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), on behalf of the English and French clubs respectively, gave ERC two years' notice of withdrawing from the Heineken Cup and also the second-tier Challenge Cup competitions from the start of the 2014–15 season. [41] Soon after, in September, Premiership Rugby announced a new four-year TV deal worth £152 million with BT Sport including rights for English clubs' European games - which had previously been the sole responsibility of ERC. ERC responded with claims that Premiership Rugby did not have the rights to a European tournament and announced a four-year deal with Sky Sports. The actions of Premiership Rugby were said to have "thrown northern hemisphere rugby into disarray". [42]

Subsequently, in September 2013, the English and French clubs announced their intention to organise their own tournament, to be named the Rugby Champions Cup, from 2014–15 season onwards, and invited other European clubs, provinces, and regions to join them. The IRB (now World Rugby) stepped into the debate at the same time to announce its opposition to the creation of a breakaway tournament. [43] In October 2013, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the four Welsh regions, confirmed its full support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup. [44] Negotiations for both a new Heineken Cup and Rugby Champions Cup were then ongoing. [45]

On 10 April 2014, following almost two years of negotiations, a statement was released under the aegis of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announcing that the nine stakeholders to the new competition, the six unions, and three umbrella club organisations (Premiership Rugby, LNR, and Regional Rugby Wales), had signed Heads of Agreement for the formation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new, third tournament, initially called the Qualifying Competition and now known as the European Rugby Continental Shield. [46] [47] On the same day, BT and Sky announced an agreement that divided coverage of the new European competitions. Both will split the pool matches, quarter-finals, and semi-finals equally, and both will broadcast the final. BT will get first choice of English Premiership club matches in the Champions Cup, with Sky receiving the same privilege for the Challenge Cup. [48]

Premiership Rugby and LNR were described as having employed "bully-boy tactics" by The Irish Times . [49]

Organisation

Shortly after the establishment of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) to administer the new competition from a new base in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the running of the inaugural 2014–15 tournament was subcontracted to the organisation it had been meant to replace, Dublin-based European Rugby Cup (ERC). This was despite the latter having been described by chairman of Premiership Rugby, Quentin Smith, as "no longer fit for purpose". This was described as "something of an about-turn" by The Daily Telegraph . [50]

EPCR were still looking to hire a permanent chairman and director-general more than a year after their establishment. [51]

2015 final

The inaugural Champions Cup final was brought forward by three weeks due to a French desire not to interrupt their domestic playoffs. This was said to have "devalued" and "diminished the status of the occasion as the pinnacle of European club rugby". [49] [51]

While the 2015 Heineken Cup final had been due to take place at the San Siro in Milan, the first European final to take place in Italy, the new organisers decided to move it to Twickenham Stadium in London in order to "guarantee the best possible financial return to clubs". [51] However, with less than two weeks to go before the final took place, it was reported that fewer than half of the stadium's 82,000 seats had been sold, with just 8,000 French supporters travelling to London to watch Toulon face Clermont. [52] The organisers subsequently made "free" tickets available on Ticketmaster (with only a £2 booking fee applicable), before admitting to this being a mistake – the offer supposed to have been linked to a purchase of a Premiership final ticket. This was described as an "embarrassing fiasco" by the Western Mail in Wales. [51] [53] 56,622 fans subsequently attended the game. EPCR were said to have "failed on many levels" by The Irish Times , with the attendance figure for the final "a fitting postscript to the hastily-convened decider to what was, after all the brinkmanship, a hastily-convened tournament". [49]

Sponsorship and suppliers

Sponsors

During the creation of the Champions Cup, former organisers ERC had been criticised for "failing to maximise the commercial potential" of the Heineken Cup. New organisers EPCR pledged to move from a single title sponsor format to a Champions League-style partner system, with 2–3 primary partners projected for the inaugural tournament and 5 being the ultimate target. However, only Heineken agreed to sign up for the 2014–15 season, at a much reduced price from that which they had been paying previously. [49] [51]

Principal partners

Heineken, who had sponsored the Heineken Cup since 1995, signed on as the first partner for the Champions Cup in 2014, and were credited as the Founding Partner of European Rugby. They returned to the competition as title sponsors in 2018, resulting in it being renamed as the "Heineken Champions Cup". [54]
Announced as the second principal partner at the 2015–16 tournament launch, signing on for three seasons [55]

Suppliers

Following their appointment as an official supplier, Tissot began sponsoring the match officials' kit

Player records

Note that in the case of career statistics, only those clubs for which each player appeared in European Cup fixtures (i.e. Heineken Cup or Champions Cup) are listed.

Career records

Tries

RankPlayer [56] Club(s)Tries
1 Chris Ashton Northampton Saints, Saracens, Toulon 39
2 Vincent Clerc Toulouse 36
3 Brian O'Driscoll Leinster 33
4 Dafydd James Pontypridd, Llanelli, Bridgend, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins, Scarlets 29
Tommy Bowe Ulster, Ospreys 29
6 Simon Zebo Munster, Racing 28
7 Shane Horgan Leinster 27
Andrew Trimble Ulster 27
9 Gordon D'Arcy Leinster 26
10 Geordan Murphy Leicester Tigers 25
Napolioni Nalaga Clermont Auvergne 25
  • Players in BOLD still playing for an EPRC qualified team.

Points

RankPlayer [57] Club(s)Points
1 Ronan O'Gara Munster 1365
2 Stephen Jones Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets 869
3 Dimitri Yachvili Biarritz 661
4 Diego Domínguez Milan, Stade Français 645
5 David Humphreys Ulster 564
6 Neil Jenkins Pontypridd, Cardiff, Celtic Warriors 502
7 David Skrela Colomiers, Stade Français, Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne 500
8 Dan Parks Glasgow Warriors, Cardiff Blues, Connacht 479
9 Felipe Contepomi Bristol, Leinster, Toulon 444
10 Jean-Baptiste Élissalde Toulouse 441

Goals

The number of goals includes both penalties and conversions.

RankPlayer [58] Club(s)Goals
1 Ronan O'Gara Munster 488
2 Stephen Jones Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets 313
3 Dimitri Yachvili Biarritz 235
4 Diego Domínguez Milan, Stade Français 231
5 Neil Jenkins Pontypridd, Cardiff, Celtic Warriors 176
6 Jean-Baptiste Élissalde Toulouse 165
7 David Skrela Colomiers, Stade Français, Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne 164
8 David Humphreys Ulster 161
9 Dan Parks Glasgow Warriors, Cardiff Blues, Connacht 156
10 Jonathan Sexton Leinster, Racing Métro 92 149

Appearances

RankPlayer [59] Club(s)Games
1 Ronan O'Gara Munster 110
2 Gordon D'Arcy Leinster 104
3 John Hayes Munster 101
Peter Stringer Munster, Saracens, Bath, Sale 101
5 Donncha O'Callaghan Munster 97
6 Clément Poitrenaud Toulouse 96
7 Leo Cullen Leinster, Leicester Tigers 92
8 Benjamin Kayser Stade Français, Leicester Tigers, Clermont Auvergne 92
9 Shane Horgan Leinster 87
Brian O'Driscoll Leinster
Nathan Hines Edinburgh, Perpignan, Leinster, Clermont Auvergne

Single season records

Tries

RankPlayerClubSeasonTries
1 Chris Ashton Saracens 2013–14 [60] 11
2 Sébastien Carrat Brive 1996–97 [61] 10
3 Matthew Robinson Swansea 2000–01 [62] 9
4 Shane Horgan Leinster 2004–05 [63] 8
Timoci Matanavou Toulouse 2011–12 [64]
Napolioni Nalaga Clermont 2012–13 [65]
7(Several players tied)7

Points

RankPlayerClubSeasonPoints
1 Diego Domínguez Stade Français 2000–01 [66] 188
2 Tim Stimpson Leicester Tigers 2000–01 [66] 152
3 Simon Mason Ulster 1998–99 [67] 144
4 Jonathan Sexton Leinster 2010–11 [68] 138
5 Lee Jarvis Cardiff 1997–98 [69] 134
6 Ronan O'Gara Munster 1999–00 [70] 131
7 Jonathan Callard Bath 1997–98 [69] 129
Felipe Contepomi Leinster 2005–06 [71]
Ronan O'Gara Munster 2001–02 [72]
10 Ronan O'Gara Munster 2000–01 [66] 127

European Player of the Year

The European Player of the Year award was introduced by ERC in 2010. Ronan O'Gara received the inaugural award, being recognised as the best player over the first 15 years of ERC tournaments. [73] Following the creation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the new organisers, EPCR, continued to award a Player of the Year accolade, with the first going to Nick Abendanon of Clermont Auvergne.

Trophy

The European Rugby Champions Cup trophy was unveiled in October 2014. [74]

Crafted by Thomas Lyte, [75] the trophy is made of mixed metals including sterling silver and 18ct gold plating. The cup is designed around the idea of the star representing European rugby, including the previous 19 seasons of European rugby, as the Heineken Cup.

The 13.5 kg, five-handled trophy, creates a star shape when viewed from the top, while when viewed from the side, the top of the trophy has a coronet effect, which designers said was to reflect the crowning of the Kings of Europe. The base of the trophy contains the crests of the 10 clubs that won the Heineken Cup, to further reinforce the link between the old and new European competitions [76]

Media coverage

EPCR was criticised for forcing fans in the United Kingdom and Ireland to subscribe to two pay-TV companies, Sky Sports and BT Sport, if they wanted to follow their teams in the Champions Cup from 2015. Coverage was split between the two in order to raise revenues, but this was said to have "diluted the focus and reduced the buzz around the event". [51]

Attendance

This lists the average attendances for each season's European Cup competition, as well as the total attendance and highest attendance for that season. The final is typically the most-attended match, as it is generally held in a larger stadium than any club's home venue.

The highest attended match of the 2002–03 competition was a quarter-final between Leinster and Biarritz before 46,000 fans at Lansdowne Road in Dublin.

The 2009 final held at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh was only the third most-attended match that season. The most-attended match was a semi-final between Irish rivals Leinster and Munster played in Croke Park in Dublin. The attendance of 82,208 set what was then a world record for a club match in the sport's history. [86] Second on that season's list was a pool match between Stade Français and Harlequins that drew 76,569 to Stade de France in Paris (a venue that Stade Français has used for select home matches since 2005).

While the 2010–11 tournament's highest attended match was unsurprisingly the final, the second-highest attended match was notable in that it was held in Spain. Perpignan hosted Toulon in a quarter-final before a sellout crowd of 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain.

SeasonTotalAverageHighest
1995–96 97,5356,50221,800
1996–97 317,9876,76541,664
1997–98 462,9586,61336,500
1998–99 322,3405,86049,000
1999–00 626,0657,92468,441
2000–01 646,8348,18744,000
2001–02 656,3828,30874,600
2002–03 704,7828,92146,000
2003–04 817,83310,35273,057
2004–05 918,03911,62051,326
2005–06 964,86312,37074,534
2006–07 914,04811,57081,076
2007–08 942,37311,92874,417
2008–09 1,177,06414,90082,208
2009–10 1,080,59813,67878,962
2010–11 1,139,42714,42372,456
2011–12 1,172,12714,83781,774
2012–13 1,063,21813,45850,148
2013–14 1,127,92614,27867,578
2014–15 985,71714,71256,622
2015–16 955,64714,26358,017
2016–17 1,018,02615,19455,272
2017–18 1,005,53715,00852,282
2018–19 1,020,28615,22851,930

See also

Notes

  1. The 2020 final was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. [38]
  2. Capacity limited to 10,000 due to national restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related Research Articles

Munster Rugby

Munster Rugby is one of the four professional provincial rugby teams from the island of Ireland. They compete in the Pro14 and the European Rugby Champions Cup. The team represents the IRFU Munster Branch, which is one of four primary branches of the IRFU, and is responsible for rugby union throughout the geographical Irish province of Munster. The team motto is "To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible." This is derived from the motto of the MacCarthy clan – "Forti et Fideli nihil difficile". Their main home ground is Thomond Park, Limerick, though some games are played at Musgrave Park, Cork.

Leinster Rugby

Leinster Rugby is one of the four professional provincial rugby teams from the island of Ireland and the most successful Irish team both domestically and in European competition. They compete in the Pro14 and the European Rugby Champions Cup.

European Rugby Cup

European Rugby Cup Ltd was the governing body and organiser of the two major European rugby union club tournaments; the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup. It was replaced by the European Professional Club Rugby governing body in 2014.

2009 Heineken Cup Final

The 2009 Heineken Cup Final was the final match of the 2008–09 Heineken Cup, the 14th season of Europe's top club rugby union competition. The match was played on 23 May 2009 at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh; this was the second time that the Heineken Cup final had been held at Murrayfield after the 2005 final, when Toulouse beat Stade Français 18–12 after extra time.

The 2012–13 Heineken Cup was the 18th season of the Heineken Cup, the annual rugby union European club competition for clubs from the top six nations in European rugby. The tournament began with two pool matches on 12 October 2012 and ended with the final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 18 May 2013.

The 2013–14 Heineken Cup was the 19th and final season of the Heineken Cup, the annual rugby union European club competition for clubs from the top six nations in European rugby.

The 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup was the first season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby, and the 20th season of professional European rugby union in total. It replaced the Heineken Cup as Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs. The competition got underway on the weekend of 17 October 2014 with the first round of the pool stage, and ended with the final on 2 May 2015 at Twickenham Stadium, London, England.

European Rugby Challenge Cup

The European Rugby Challenge Cup is an annual European rugby union competition organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the second-tier competition for European clubs behind the European Rugby Champions Cup. From its inception in 1996 to 2014, it was known as the European Challenge Cup and governed by European Rugby Cup (ERC). Following disagreements in the structure of the tournament's format and division of revenue, the English and French leagues withdrew to form the EPCR, which organized the Challenge Cup and the Champions Cup since the 2014–15 season.

European Professional Club Rugby

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the governing body and organiser of the two major European rugby union club tournaments: the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. A third tournament, the European Rugby Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition was introduced as a qualification competition for clubs from minor nations to enter the Challenge Cup. EPCR shared control of this tournament with Rugby Europe, the international federation for rugby union in Europe, and with the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR). The tournament was discontinued after the 2018–19 season.

2015 European Rugby Champions Cup Final

The 2015 European Rugby Champions Cup Final was the final match in the first European Rugby Champions Cup, and the twentieth European club rugby final in general, as the competition replaces the Heineken Cup.

The 2015–16 European Rugby Champions Cup was the second European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. The European Rugby Champions Cup replaced the Heineken Cup, which was Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs for the first nineteen years of professional European rugby union.

The 2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup was the third European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. The competition replaced the Heineken Cup, which was Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs for the first nineteen years of professional European rugby union. The opening round of the tournament took place on the weekend of 14/15/16 October 2016. The final took place on 13 May 2017 at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.

The 2018–19 European Rugby Challenge Cup is the fifth edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual second-tier rugby union competition for professional clubs. Including the predecessor competition, the original European Challenge Cup, this is the 23rd edition of European club rugby's second-tier competition. Clubs from five of the nations that participate in the Six Nations Championship, along with club-sides from Romania and Russia, are competing.

The 2018–19 European Rugby Champions Cup is the fifth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in Europe. It is the 24th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition. This competition is the first to be sponsored by Heineken since the 2013–14 season.

2018–19 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage

The 2018–19 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage is the first stage of the 24th season of European club rugby union, and the fifth under the European Rugby Champions Cup format.

The 2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup was the sixth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It was the 25th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.

2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage

The 2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage is the first stage of the 25th season of European club rugby union, and the sixth under the European Rugby Champions Cup format. The competition involves twenty teams, across five pools of four teams, for eight quarter-final places – awarded to the five pool winners and the three top-ranked pool runners-up. The pool stage begins on the weekend of 15-17 November 2019, and will end, following 6 rounds of games, on the weekend of 18-19 February 2020.

The 2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup is the seventh season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It will be the 26th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.

The 2021–22 European Rugby Champions Cup will be the eighth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It will be the 27th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.

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