Heineken Cup – always exciting and unexpected, don’t leave the ground early!
The Heineken Cup was one of the two annual tournaments organised by the European Rugby Club (ERC). It features the leading European club rugby teams from the Six Nations countries, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy and is one of the most prestigious prizes in the game.
The competition runs from October to May, fitting around the teams domestic fixtures. Clubs in the Aviva Premiership, Pro12, and Top 14 are eligible for the Heineken Cup under each leagues qualification process with those teams not securing a place entering the European Challenge Cup.
The 24 qualifying teams are allocated to one of the six pools of four teams who play home and away to see who progresses to the knock out stages. Much is made of home advantage in the quarter finals and results have shown this is a benefit to teams looking to progress.
Semi finals and finals of the Heineken Cup take place at neutral venues and attract large crowds looking for the end of season spectacle. The 2010/2011 Heineken Cup final did not disappoint.
In May 2011, Leinster Rugby took on Northampton Saints at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in front of a record crowd. Both teams were looking for their second Heineken Cup title and after the first 40 minutes it looked like the Saints were going home with the trophy as the English side led 22-6. No side had ever come back from such a large deficit but the Leinster side featuring Brian O’Driscoll and man of the match Jonny Sexton went on to score 27 points in a blistering 26 minutes of rugby. Sexton scored 2 tries, 3 conversions and 4 penalties in an historic win.
Heineken Cup Winners
The French teams have 7 titles, four for Toulouse who hold the record for championships won. England have won 6 Heineken Cup titles as have Irish sides. Teams from Ireland have dominated in latter years winning 5 of the last 9 competitions. In the last two seasons Toulon did the double, including winning the final tournament.