|Replaced by||European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Number of teams||24|
|Most titles||Toulouse (4 titles)|
|Website||Official site (Archived)|
The Heineken Cup (known as the H Cup in France due to restrictions on alcohol sponsorship) was one of two annual rugby union competitions organised annually by European Rugby Cup from 1995 to 2014. The tournament involved leading club, regional and provincial teams from the six International Rugby Board (IRB) countries in Europe whose national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. In addition to these six countries, Romania competed in the inaugural tournament, but did not feature afterwards. Teams that did not qualify for the Heineken Cup entered the second tier competition, the European Challenge Cup.
The Heineken Cup was one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport and was sponsored by Dutch brewing company Heineken International from its launch in 1995. The tournament was launched in the European summer of 1995 on the initiative of the then Five Nations committee to provide a new level of professional cross-border competition. The European Rugby Champions Cup replaced the Heineken Cup at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Each European country used a different qualifying system, though in total, 24 teams contest the pool stages in six pools of four. According to performances, the number of clubs from each country changes. The tournament was held from October to May, with various stages scheduled around domestic club competitions.
Toulouse won the competition a record four times. In addition to this record, the tournament was won by Leinster three times, while Munster, Leicester Tigers, Toulon and London Wasps all won it twice each.
- 1 Format
- 2 History
- 3 Finals
- 4 Player records
- 5 Attendance
- 6 Media coverage
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The Heineken Cup was open to clubs in the RaboDirect Pro12 (originally the Celtic League), Aviva Premiership and the Top 14. The Italian Excellenza competition also sent clubs into the Heineken Cup through 2009–10, but ceased to do so after the Celtic League expanded to include Italian franchises. Clubs in Europe's top leagues that did not qualify for the Heineken Cup entered the European Challenge Cup, along with teams from outside the top European rugby nations.
22 places were awarded by country, with each country deciding how to allocate their alloted places:
- England: six teams (selected by performance in Aviva Premiership and Anglo-Welsh Cup)
- France: six teams (selected by performance in Top 14 Championship)
- Ireland: three teams (selected by performance in Pro 12)
- Wales: three teams (selected by performance in Pro 12)
- Scotland: two teams (selected by participation in Pro 12)
- Italy: two teams (selected by participation in Pro 12)
From the competition's start in 1995 until the 2008–09 season, the remaining two places were allocated as follows:
- One team came from France, England or Italy; this place was allocated to the country whose team progressed further in the previous season's Heineken Cup. For example, because Leicester progressed further in the 2008–09 competition than any French or Italian team, there were seven English teams in the 2009–10 competition.
- The final team was the winner of a play-off between the best placed team in the Celtic League (then sponsored as Magners League) who had not already qualified, and the best placed semi-finalist in the Italian Excellenza. The play-off was a single match, which took place alternately in Italy or the home of the Magners League side. In 2007–08, this play-off was scheduled to take place before the Italian Excellenza semi-finals, so no Italian team was nominated to take part. This meant that the Magners League nominee, the Newport Gwent Dragons, qualified without a playoff.
From the 2009–10 season until the competition's disbandment, the remaining two places in the 24-team tournament for the following season were filled by the winners of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup. If a trophy winner had already qualified for the Heineken Cup by virtue of its league position, that team's country would receive an extra Heineken Cup place (assuming that the country has an extra team that can take up a place; Scotland had only two top-level professional teams, as did Italy since the 2010–11 season). However, England and France were capped at seven Heineken Cup places each. If either of those two countries had produced the winners of both European cups, the last place would have been filled by the highest ERC-ranked club from outside of that nation to have not already qualified. The latter rule would have also applied if one of Scotland or Italy's two Pro 12 teams had won a European trophy. London Wasps could have benefited if either Clermont or Edinburgh had won the 2011–12 Heineken Cup, but both those clubs lost in the semi-finals, ending Wasps' hopes of a Heineken Cup lifeline.
Six pools of four teams played both home and away games. Until the 2007–08 season these pools were drawn mostly at random, with the following restrictions:
- Each nation nominates one of their teams as top seed; these teams are drawn in separate pools.
- Each nation supplies at most one team to each pool, except where England or France supply seven teams in total; in this case, the seventh team drawn will appear in a pool with one other team from that nation. In some cases (such as for the 2007/2008 season) the unseeded Italian and Scottish teams may also deliberately be drawn in different pools.
From the 2008–09 season, there were more structures to the pools. The competing 24 teams were ranked based on past performance using the European club ranking from the ERC and arranged into four tiers of six teams, with the reigning champion automatically appearing in the top tier. Each pool received one team at random from each tier; again, this was subject to the restriction that each pool cannot contain more than one team from each competing nation, except France or England, who supplied seven teams.
Four points were awarded for a win and two points for a draw. A bonus point was awarded for a loss by seven points or fewer, or for scoring four tries or more. The six pool winners (ranked 1–6 by number of points scored) and two best placed runners-up (ranked seven and eight) qualified for the quarter-finals. Teams ranked one to four were given home advantage. Starting in the 2009–10 season, the three next-best placed runners up would qualify for the knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup.
The quarter-finals match ups were: Team 1 v Team 8; Team 2 v Team 7; Team 3 v Team 6; Team 4 v Team 5.
The quarter-finals were played at the home stadiums of the higher-seeded clubs, or sometimes at a larger stadium in or near the host team's city. The semi-finals, on the other hand, were always played at nominally neutral venues. Each of the two semi-final venues are in the country of the first team out of the hat when the draw was made. For example, in 2004, Munster v Wasps was played at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, while Toulouse v Biarritz was played in Bordeaux.
However, the neutrality requirement was satisfied simply by the designated home team playing outside of its normal stadium. Both 2005 semi-finals were held in the host's home city; Leicester Tigers v Toulouse was held at Walkers Stadium in Leicester, not far from Leicester's normal home of Welford Road, while Stade Français v Biarritz was played at Parc des Princes in Paris, across the street from Stade's normal home field. The semifinal venue was also required to meet the following additional criteria; it had to have a capacity of at least 20,000 and was required to be in the same country as the designated home team.
However, the European Rugby Cup, which organised the competition, would allow exceptions, such as with Biarritz, located in a city less than 20 km from the Spanish border, being allowed to host their 2006 and 2010 semi-finals across the border at Estadio Anoeta in Donostia-San Sebastián (which is the closest stadium to Biarritz that meets the requirements). During pool stages, these requirements were further relaxed; for example, Bourgoin hosted Munster in Switzerland at Stade de Genève, Geneva in the 2006–07 competition, and Stade Français planned to take their 2009–10 home fixture against Ulster to Belgium's largest stadium, King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, but that fixture was canceled and moved to Paris after heavy snowfall in Brussels on the intended matchday. Brussels' Heineken Cup debut would have to wait until 2012–13, when Saracens took their home match against Racing Métro to that city.
1995 to 1998
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. 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. English and Scottish teams did not take part in the inaugural competition. 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.
Clubs from England and Scotland joined the competition in 1996–97. 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. 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.
The season 1997–98 saw the introduction of a home and away format in the pool games. 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.
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.
1999 to 2004
English clubs returned in 1999–2000. 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 different 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.
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.
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. 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 Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux. The 2004 final at Twickenham 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 to 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. 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.
In 2006, Munster defeated Biarritz in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 23–19. It was third time lucky for the Irish provincial side, who had previously been denied the ultimate prize twice by Northampton and Leicester.
The 2006–07 Heineken Cup would be distributed to over 100 countries following Pitch International's securing of the rights. 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 EDF Energy Cup and the Guinness Premiership. However, Wasps won the final 25 points to 9 in front of a tournament record 81,076 fans.
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. 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.". 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
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.
The sixteenth 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, 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. 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).
Shortly after the 2012 final, The Daily Telegraph reported that Premiership Rugby, organiser of the English top flight, would officially notify European Rugby Cup on 1 June of its intention to leave the accord that governs both European cups. The departure, which was expected to be mirrored by Top 14 operators Ligue nationale de rugby, would take effect following the 2013–14 season. The Premiership's desired new format, strongly opposed by the Celtic nations and Italy, is:
- The Heineken Cup would be reduced from 24 to 20 teams.
- Six sides each would qualify from the Premiership, Top 14, and Pro12, based on league position. The remaining two Heineken Cup places would go to the nations that win the previous season's Heineken and Challenge Cups.
- All remaining sides from the three leagues—a total of 18—would play in the Challenge Cup, which would remain at 20 teams.
- A completely new third-tier competition would be launched, covering emerging European rugby nations such as Romania, Georgia, Portugal, Russia and Spain. The top two teams from this competition would take up the remaining two Challenge Cup places.
The following season, English and French clubs announced the Rugby Champions Cup competition, inviting the other nations competing in the Heineken Cup to join them. The new competition would have the format the clubs desired in the Heineken Cup - 20 teams, equal revenue split etc. Subsequently, the FFR offered French clubs a bonus to remain in the Heineken Cup, which they accepted, and subsequently withdrew from the Champions Cup. Shortly after, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the Welsh Regions, confirmed its support for the new competition.
Negotiations for a new competition agreement were ongoing until April 2014, when following months of negotiation, an accord was signed to create the European Rugby Champions Cup as a successor to the Heineken Cup, in time for the 2014–15 season.
Wins by club
|Team||Winners||Runners-up||Years won||Years losing finalist|
|Toulouse||4||2||1995–96, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2009–10||2003–04, 2007–08|
|Leinster||3||0||2008–09, 2010–11, 2011–12|
|Leicester Tigers||2||3||2000–01, 2001–02||1996–97, 2006–07, 2008–09|
|Munster||2||2||2005–06, 2007–08||1999–2000, 2001–02|
|London Wasps||2||0||2003–04, 2006–07|
|Stade Français||0||2||2000–01, 2004–05|
Wins by country
|France||7||10||Toulouse (4), Toulon (2), Brive||Biarritz (2), Stade Français (2), Toulouse (2), Brive, Colomiers, Perpignan, Clermont Auvergne|
|England||6||5||Leicester Tigers (2), London Wasps (2), Bath, Northampton Saints||Leicester Tigers (3), Northampton Saints, Saracens|
|Ireland||6||3||Leinster (3), Munster (2), Ulster||Munster (2), Ulster|
Note that in the case of career statistics, only those clubs for which each player appeared in the Heineken Cup are listed.
Top try scorers
|3||Dafydd James||Pontypridd, Llanelli, Bridgend, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins, Scarlets||29|
|6||Geordan Murphy||Leicester Tigers||25|
|7||Tommy Bowe||Ulster, Ospreys||24|
|Ben Cohen||Northampton Saints, Brive, Sale Sharks|
|10||Chris Ashton||Northampton Saints, Saracens||23|
|Napolioni Nalaga||ASM Clermont|
|Tom Voyce||Bath, London Wasps, Gloucester|
- Players in BOLD still playing for an ERC qualified team.
Top point scorers
|2||Stephen Jones||Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets||869|
|4||Diego Domínguez||Milan, Stade Français||645|
|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|
Most goals (penalties and conversions) of all time
|2||Stephen Jones||Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets||313|
|4||Diego Domínguez||Milan, Stade Français||231|
|5||Neil Jenkins||Pontypridd, Cardiff, Celtic Warriors||176|
|7||David Skrela||Colomiers, Stade Français, Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne||164|
|9||Dan Parks||Glasgow Warriors, Cardiff Blues, Connacht||156|
|10||Jonathan Sexton||Leinster, Racing Métro 92||149|
|5||Peter Stringer||Munster, Saracens||94|
|6||Leo Cullen||Leinster, Leicester Tigers||92|
Single season records
Tries Scored in one season
|Franck Comba||Stade Français||2000–01|
|Kenny Logan||London Wasps||1997–98|
|Thomas Lombard||Stade Français||1998–99|
|Paul Sackey||London Wasps||2006–07|
Points Scored in one season
|1||Diego Domínguez||Stade Français||2000–01||188|
|2||Tim Stimpson||Leicester Tigers||2000–01||152|
European Player of the year
The following are the winners of the ERC European Player of the Year award.
- 1995–2010* — Ronan O'Gara (Munster)
- 2011 — Sean O'Brien (Leinster)
- 2012 — Rob Kearney (Leinster)
- 2013 — Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
- 2014 — Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
The ERC began distributing its awards in 2010. Ronan O'Gara received the inaugural ERC award, with the ERC recognising O'Gara as the best player over the first 15 years of ERC tournaments.
This lists average attendances for each season's Heineken Cup competition, total attendance for each season, and the 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 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. 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 quarterfinal before a sellout crowd of 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain.
- Asia: Fox Sports and Setanta Sports
- Australia: Setanta Sports
- Brazil: ESPN and ESPN Brasil
- Canada: Sportsnet World
- France: 2008/09 - 2009/10 France Télévisions & Canal+. Since 2010/11, France Télevisions (first 2 choices per day) and Canal+.
- Hungary: Sport 1
- Ireland: Sky Sports live, highlights on TG4 (Irish)
- Italy: Sky Sport
- New Zealand: ESPN and The Rugby Channel
- Romania: Sport 1
- South Africa: SuperSport (TV channel)
- Spain: Canal+ Deportes
- United Kingdom: Sky Sports since 2008–09 (English), S4/C (Welsh)
- United States: Fox Soccer Plus from 2010–11
- Heineken Cup finals
- European Challenge Cup
- English Premiership
- Pro 12 (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy)
- Top 14 (France)
- National Championship of Excellence (Italy)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heineken Cup.|
- ERC Rugby Official website of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup
- International Rugby Board Official Site of Rugby Union's Governing Body