European Rugby Champions Cup
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Current season or competition:
2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup
|Inaugural season||1995–96 as Heineken Cup
2014–15 as Champions Cup
|Number of teams||20|
|Most titles||Toulouse (4 titles)|
|Related competitions||European Rugby Challenge Cup
The European Rugby Champions Cup 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 Champions Cup via their final positions in their respective national/regional leagues (Premiership, Top 14, and Pro12); those who do not qualify are instead eligible to compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
Saracens are the current holders of the cup, having won their first cup by beating Racing 92 in the 2016 final. Toulouse have won the competition a record four times, the last of which was in 2010.
- 1 History
- 2 Format
- 3 Finals
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Sponsorship and suppliers
- 6 Player records
- 7 Trophy
- 8 Media coverage
- 9 Attendance
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
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.
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 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.
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 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, 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).
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.
A total of 20 teams qualify for the competition, 4 fewer than used to qualify for the Heineken Cup, 19 teams qualify automatically based on position in their respective leagues:
- England: 6 teams, based on position in the English Premiership
- France: 6 teams, based on position in the Top 14
- Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales: 7 teams, based on performance in the Pro12
- The best placed team from each country in the Pro12 will qualify for the competition (4 places)
- The remaining three places will be awarded to the highest ranked teams in the Pro12 not already qualified (3 places)
20th team play-off
The final team each season qualifies through a play-off competition between the best placed unqualified teams.
- For the 2014–15 season, this was a two legged play-off between the 7th placed teams in the Top 14 and the English Premiership. The team with the highest aggregate score over the two legs advancing to the Champions Cup.
- For the 2015–16 season, there was a three-team play-off; the 7th-placed team in the English Premiership, or the winners of the 2014–15 European Rugby Challenge Cup if members of the English Premiership and not already qualified, would play the 8th-placed (or highest non-qualified) team from the Pro12, with the winner playing the 7th-placed team in the Top 14.
- To facilitate Rugby World Cup 2015, there will be no play-offs for the 2016–17 Champions Cup with the 20th place going to the winner of the 2016 Challenge Cup if not already qualified.
- For the 2017–18 season and beyond, the play-off format will include four clubs with a second PRO12 club competing. If not already qualified, the winner of the Challenge Cup will take the place in the play-offs of the 7th-ranked club in the Aviva Premiership and Top 14, and will also take the place of the second Pro12 club if applicable.
For the pool stage there are five pools of four teams. The teams are ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into four tiers of five teams. Teams are then drawn from the tiers into pools at random, with the restriction that no pool shall contain two teams from the same country or league, until the allocation of Tier 4, which contains the 6th English and French teams, the 6th and 7th Pro12 team and the winner of the play-off.
Teams will play the other three teams in the pool twice, at home and away, and match points will be awarded depending on the result of each game, with teams receiving four points for a win, and two for a draw. Teams can also earn 1 try bonus point for scoring four or more tries, and 1 losing bonus point for losing a match by seven points or fewer.
Following the completion of the pool stage, the five pool winners, and the three best pool runners-up qualify for the knock-out stage.
The eight quarter-finalists are seeded – pool winners from 1–5, and runners-up from 6–8 – based on performance in their respective pool. The four pool winners with the best pool record receive home advantage for the quarter-finals against one of the lower-seeded teams. The quarter-final are unbracketed, and follow the standard 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format, as found in the Heineken Cup.
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 be played at a neutral ground in the designated home team's country.
Home country advantage will be awarded as follows:
The winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which will be held no later than the first weekend of May each season.
|Match was won during extra time|
Wins by club
|Club||Won||Runner-up||Years won||Years runner-up|
|Toulouse||4||2||1995–96, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2009–10||2003–04, 2007–08|
|Toulon||3||0||2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15|
|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||1999–00, 2001–02|
|London Wasps||2||0||2003–04, 2006–07|
|Stade Français||0||2||2000–01, 2004–05|
Wins by nation
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. Some proposals had been made that, in future, rather than Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy each sending their top-placed teams in the Pro12 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.
In June 2012, following that year's final, Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, 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. Soon after, in September, Premiership Rugby announced a new four-year TV deal worth £152m 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".
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 stepped into the debate at the same time to announce its opposition to the creation of a breakaway tournament. In October 2013, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the four Welsh regions, confirmed its full support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup. Negotiations for both a new Heineken Cup and Rugby Champions Cup were then ongoing.
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, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, 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, called the Qualifying Competition. 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.
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.
EPCR were still looking to hire a permanent chairman and director-general more than a year after their establishment.
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".
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". 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. 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. 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".
Sponsorship & TV deal
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.
EPCR was subsequently criticised for forcing fans to subscribe to two pay-TV companies, Sky Sports and BT Sport, if they wanted to follow their teams throughout the Champions Cup. 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".
2015 postponed games
Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, all round-one games due to take place in France that weekend were called off, along with the round-two fixture between Stade Français and Munster. Subsequently, Bath's owner Bruce Craig stated that his team's postponed match against reigning champions Toulon would never take place, blaming fixture congestion due to that year's Rugby World Cup, with his head coach Mike Ford suggesting that the points for the game should be shared. This was criticised as being "convenient", "opportunistic", "distasteful" and "badly out of place" given that Toulon were heavy favourites for the game and Bath "would have almost certainly lost".
Sponsorship and suppliers
- Heineken (1995–)
- 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
- Turkish Airlines (2015–)
- Announced as the second principal partner at the 2015–16 tournament launch, signing on for three seasons
- Webb Ellis - Match Balls & Officials kit (2003–2009)
- Adidas - Match Balls & Officials kit (2009–2014)
- Gilbert – Match Balls (1998-2002; 2014–)
- Canterbury of New Zealand – Match Officials Kit (2014–)
- Tissot – Official Watch & Timekeeper (2015-)
- Following their appointment as an Official Supplier, Tissot began sponsoring the Match Officials kit.
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.
Top try scorers
|3||Dafydd James||Pontypridd, Llanelli, Bridgend, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins, Scarlets||29|
|6||Geordan Murphy||Leicester Tigers||25|
|Napolioni Nalaga||ASM Clermont|
|Chris Ashton||Northampton Saints, Saracens|
|Tommy Bowe||Ulster, Ospreys|
|10||Ben Cohen||Northampton Saints, Brive, Sale Sharks||24|
- Players in BOLD still playing for an EPRC 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)
|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
|Franck Comba||Stade Français||2000–01|
|Kenny Logan||London Wasps||1997–98|
|Thomas Lombard||Stade Français||1998–99|
|Paul Sackey||London Wasps||2006–07|
|1||Diego Domínguez||Stade Français||2000–01||188|
|2||Tim Stimpson||Leicester Tigers||2000–01||152|
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. 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 England.
- 2010 — Ronan O'Gara (Munster)
- 2011 — Sean O'Brien (Leinster)
- 2012 — Rob Kearney (Leinster)
- 2013 — Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)
- 2014 — Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
- 2015 — Nick Abendanon (Clermont Auvergne)
- 2016 — Maro Itoje (Saracens)
The European Rugby Champions Cup trophy was unveiled in October 2014.
Crafted by Thomas Lyte, 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
- United Kingdom & Ireland:
- France: beIN Sports, France Télévisions 
- Italy: Sky Italia
- Spain: Movistar+
- Australia: beIN Sports
- Asia Pacific: Setanta Sports
- United States: ESPN3
- Canada: Sportsnet World
- Brazil: ESPN+
- Portugal: SportTV
- Romania: Digi Sport
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 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.
- List of European Rugby Champions Cup finals
- European Rugby Challenge Cup
- Premiership (England)
- Pro12 (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy)
- Top 14 (France)
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