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Heineken Cup
Current competition: 2009-10 Heineken Cup
Heineken cup.png
Competition logo
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1995
Inaugural season 1995–96
Chairman Jean-Pierre Lux
Number of teams 24
Nations  England
Ireland Ireland
Holders Leinster (2008–09)
Most titles Toulouse (3 titles)
Website Official site

The European Rugby Cup (known as the Heineken Cup because of the tournament's sponsorship by Heineken) is an annual rugby union competition involving leading club, regional and provincial teams from six International Rugby Board (IRB) nations in Europe: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Romania competed in the first year of the competition only. The competition is organised by the European Rugby Cup, who are also responsible for the secondary championship, the European Challenge Cup. It is one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport. 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. It is sponsored by Dutch brewing company Heineken International (it is known as H-Cup in France because of alcohol advertising restrictions).

Each European nation has 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 nation changes. The tournament is held from October to May, with various stages scheduled around domestic club competitions.

The 2008–09 tournament was won by Ireland's Leinster, who beat the Leicester Tigers of England 19–16 in the final at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. Toulouse have won the competition a record three times, while Munster have won the most matches in the history of the Heineken Cup and top the ERC Rankings[1].




Diagram showing how qualification is obtained for Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup.

The Heineken Cup is open to clubs in the Magners League, Guinness Premiership, Super 10 and the Top 14. Clubs that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup can enter the European Challenge Cup.

22 places are awarded by country, with each country deciding how to allocate their alloted places[2]:

Until the 2009–10 season, the remaining two places in the 24-team tournament were allocated as follows:

  • One team comes from France, England or Italy; this place is allocated to the country whose team progressed further in the previous season's Heineken Cup.[2] For example, Leicester have progressed further in the 2008–09 competition than any French or Italian team, so there will be seven English teams in the 2009–10 competition.
  • The final team is the winner of a play off between the best placed team in the Magners League who has not already qualified, and the best placed semi-finalist in the Italian Super 10.[2] The play-off is a single match, which takes 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 Super 10 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.

After the 2009–10 season, the remaining two places go to the home nations of the previous season's Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup winners. However, England and France are capped at seven places each, so if both winners come from one of the two then the last place will be filled by the highest-ERC ranked club not of that nation to not have otherwise qualified.[3]

Regardless of how well they perform domestically, the winners of the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup both qualify for the next year's Heineken Cup; from 2009–10 forward, these places are separate from the country allocations, except when England or France produces winners of both competitions in the same season.

The Heineken Cup is, generally speaking, the equivalent competition of the UEFA Champions League in professional football, whereas the European Challenge Cup is the equivalent to the secondary UEFA Europa League.

A proposal has been made that, in future, rather than Ireland, Wales and Scotland each sending their top-placed teams in the Magners League to the Heineken Cup, the top teams from the league as a whole should be sent, regardless of nationality.[4]


The 2005–06 final at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff between Munster and Biarritz.

Pool stage

Six pools of four teams play both home and away games. Until the 2007/2008 season these pools were drawn mostly at random, with the following restrictions[5]:

  • 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 is more structure to the pools. The competing 24 teams are ranked based on past performance using the European club ranking from the ERC[6] and arranged into four tiers of six teams, with the reigning champion automatically appearing in the top tier. Each pool receives one team at random from each tier; again, this is subject to the restriction that each pool cannot contain more than one team from each competing nation, except where France or England supply seven teams.

Four points are awarded for a win and two points for a draw. A bonus point is 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) qualify for the quarter-finals. Teams ranked one to four have home advantage. The 3 next-best placed runners up qualify, starting with the 2009/10 season, for the knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup.[3]

Knock-out stage

The quarter-finals are: team 1 v team 8; team 2 v team 7; team 3 v team 6; team 4 v team 5.

The quarter-finals are 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, are 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 is made. For example, in 2004, Munster v Wasps was played at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, while Toulouse v Biarritz was played in Bordeaux.[7]

However, the neutrality requirement is 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,[8] 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 must also meet the following additional criteria; it must have a capacity of at least 20,000[9] and it must be in the same country as the designated home team.

However, the European Rugby Cup, which organises the competition, may allow exceptions, such as with Biarritz, located in a city less than 20 km from the Spanish border, being allowed to host their 2006 semi-final across the border at Estadio Anoeta in Donostia-San Sebastián (which is the nearest stadium to Biarritz with a suitable capacity).[10] During pool stages, these requirements are further relaxed; for example, Bourgoin hosted Munster in Switzerland at Stade de Genève, Geneva in the 2006–07 competition,[11] 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. The final is held at a predetermined site.


Season Winner Score Runner-up Venue Attendance
France Toulouse 21 – 18
Wales Cardiff Cardiff Arms Park,
France Brive 28 – 9 England Leicester Tigers Cardiff Arms Park,
England Bath 19 – 18 France Brive Stade Lescure,
Ireland Ulster 21 – 6 France Colomiers Lansdowne Road,
England Northampton Saints 9 – 8 Ireland Munster Twickenham Stadium,
England Leicester Tigers 34 – 30 France Stade Français Parc des Princes,
England Leicester Tigers 15 – 9 Ireland Munster Millennium Stadium,
France Toulouse 22 – 17 France Perpignan Lansdowne Road,
England London Wasps 27 – 20 France Toulouse Twickenham Stadium,
France Toulouse 18 – 12
France Stade Français Murrayfield Stadium,
Ireland Munster 23 – 19 France Biarritz Millennium Stadium,
England London Wasps 25 – 9 England Leicester Tigers Twickenham Stadium,
Ireland Munster 16 – 13 France Toulouse Millennium Stadium,
Ireland Leinster 19 – 16 England Leicester Tigers Murrayfield Stadium,
v Stade de France,
Saint-Denis, Paris



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.[12] 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.[13] English and Scottish teams did not take part in the inaugural competition.[14] 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.[13]

Clubs from England and Scotland joined the competition in 1996–97.[15] 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.[16] 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.[16]

1997–98 saw the introduction of a home and away format in the pool games.[17] 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.[14]

Without English clubs, the 1998–99 tournament revolved around France, Italy and the Celtic nations. Sixteen teams took part in four pools of four, with Ulster invited into the competition to even up the numbers. 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 Colmiers in front of a capacity 49,000 crowd.[17]


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.[15]

England supplied two of the 2000–01 semi-finalists – Leicester Tigers and Gloucester – with Munster and French champions Stade Francais 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 Francais 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.[12]

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.[12] 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.


Munster fans watch their team on a jumbo screen on the streets of Limerick. Munster won the 2005–06 Cup and were runners-up twice before.

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.[18] 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.[18]

In 2006, Munster defeated Biarritz in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 23–19.[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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22][23] 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.".[24] A subsequent meeting led to the announcement that the tournament would be played in 2007–08, with clubs from all the six nations. On May 20 it was announced that both French and English top-tier teams would be competing [25]

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

Leinster won the title in 2009 in their first ever final after beating Munster in the semi-final front of a world record Rugby Union club match attendance in Croke Park. They beat the Leicester Tigers in the final at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.

The 2010 final will be held at Stade de France.

Records and statistics

By nation

Nation Winners Runners-up Winning clubs Runners-up
 England 6 3 Leicester Tigers (2), London Wasps (2), Bath, Northampton Saints Leicester Tigers (3)
 France 4 8 Toulouse (3), Brive Stade Français (2), Toulouse (2), Biarritz, Brive, Colomiers, Perpignan
Ireland Ireland 4 2 Munster (2), Leinster, Ulster Munster (2)
 Wales 0 1 Cardiff

By club

Team Winners Runners-up Years won Years losing finalist
France Toulouse 3 2 1995–96, 2002–03, 2004–05 2003–04, 2007–08
England Leicester Tigers 2 3 2000–01, 2001–02 1996–97, 2006–07, 2008–09
Ireland Munster 2 2 2005–06, 2007–08 1999–2000, 2001–02
England London Wasps 2 0 2003–04, 2006–07
France Brive 1 1 1996–97 1997–98
England Bath 1 0 1997–98
Ireland Leinster 1 0 2008–09
England Northampton Saints 1 0 1999–2000
Ireland Ulster 1 0 1998–99
France Stade Français 0 2 2000–01, 2004–05
France Biarritz 0 1 2005–06
Wales Cardiff 0 1 1995–96
France Colomiers 0 1 1998–99
France Perpignan 0 1 2002–03

By player

Players involved in the 2009–10 Heineken Cup are in bold. Players not involved in this season's competition, but still active at club level, are in italics.

All-time top try scorers
Player Club Tries
Vincent Clerc Toulouse 30
Dafydd James Pontypridd, Llanelli, Bridgend, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins, Scarlets, Cardiff Blues 29
Brian O'Driscoll Leinster 28
Shane Horgan Leinster 26
Ben Cohen Northampton Saints, Brive, Sale Sharks 24
Michel Marfaing Toulouse 24
Anthony Foley Munster 23
Tom Voyce Bath, London Wasps, Gloucester 23
Gordon D'Arcy Leinster 23
Geordan Murphy Leicester Tigers 22
All-time top point scorers
Player Club Points
Ronan O'Gara Munster 1,123
Stephen Jones Llanelli, Scarlets, Clermont Auvergne 791
Diego Domínguez Milan, Stade Français 636
David Humphreys Ulster 564
Neil Jenkins Pontypridd, Cardiff, Celtic Warriors 502
Dimitri Yachvili Biarritz 477
Jean-Baptiste Élissalde Toulouse 441
Andy Goode Leicester Tigers, Saracens, CA Brive 423
Felipe Contepomi Bristol, Leinster 421
Lee Jarvis Pontypridd, Cardiff, Neath, Newport Gwent Dragons 411
Player Club Games
John Hayes Munster 91
Ronan O'Gara Munster 89
Anthony Foley Munster 86
Peter Stringer Munster 83
Fabien Pelous Dax, Toulouse 81
David Wallace Munster 77
Shane Horgan Leinster 75
Martyn Williams Pontypridd, Cardiff, Cardiff Blues 74
Marcus Horan Munster 73
Alan Quinlan Munster 73


This lists average attendances for each season's Heineken Cup competition and, where available, total attendance and the largest for each season. Typically, the final is the most-attended single match, as it is generally held in a larger stadium than any club's home venue.

However, the 2009 final was only the third most-attended match that season. The most-attended match was a semi-final between Irish rivals Leinster and Munster that was taken to the country's largest stadium, Croke Park. The attendance of 82,208 set 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, a venue that the Parisian club has used for occasional home matches since 2005.

Year Total Average Highest
1995–96 6,502
1996–97 6,765
1997–98 6,613
1998–99 5,860
1999–00 7,924
2000–01 8,187
2001–02 8,308
2002–03 8,921
2003–04 10,352
2004–05 11,620
2005–06 12,370
2006–07 914,048 11,570 81,076
2007–08 942,373 11,928 74,417
2008–09 1,177,064 14,900 82,208

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c "Heineken Cup – Key Tournament Rules". European Rugby Cup. Retrieved 12 January 2008. 
  3. ^ a b European Rugby Cup (2009-06-15). "Format and qualification changes for Europe". Press release. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  4. ^ "Scots approach Welsh proposal with caution". Retrieved 11 August 2008. 
  5. ^ "Biarritz Olympique Secure French Top Seed with Championship Win". ERC Rugby. 12 June 2006. Retrieved 6 May 2008. 
  6. ^ "New European ranking to be introduced next season". ERC Rugby. 27 March 2008. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 
  7. ^ "Heineken Cup Semi Final Referees.". BBC. 16 April 2004. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  8. ^ "Leicester 19-27 Toulouse". BBC. 24 April 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  9. ^ "Heineken Cup Semi Final Venues". Irish Rugby Football Union. 7 February 2002. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  10. ^ "Munster To Reign In Spain?". Irish Rugby Football Union. 18 February 2005. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  11. ^ "Munster to take on Bourgoin in Geneva". RTÉ Sport. 20 November 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  12. ^ a b c "European Rugby Cup : History". ERC. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  13. ^ a b "European Rugby Cup : Heineken Cup History 1995/96". ERC. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  14. ^ a b Paul Rees (30 March 2006). "Big boys plan for more lucrative Heineken Cup". Guardian Unlimited.,,1742370,00.html. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  15. ^ a b "A history of the Heineken Cup". Nobok.,,10301~786296,00.html. Retrieved 1 April 2007. 
  16. ^ a b "European Rugby Cup : Heineken Cup History 1996/97". ERC. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  17. ^ a b "European Rugby Cup : Heineken Cup History 1997/98". ERC. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  18. ^ a b "Stade Francais 12-18 Toulouse". BBC. 22 May 2005. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  19. ^ "Munster 23-19 Biarritz". BBC. 20 May 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  20. ^ "2006-07 Heineken Cup delivered to over 100 countries". Sport Business. 31 October 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2007. 
  21. ^ "Waspss crowned club champions in front of world record crowd". ERC. 20 May 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2007. 
  22. ^ "French clubs to quit Heineken Cup". BBC. 17 January 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2007. 
  23. ^ "French blame RFU for Heineken Cup boycott". RTÉ Sport. 17 January 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2007. 
  24. ^ Stephen Jones (9 April 2007). "Low division likely to fill Europe spots". Australian.,20867,21523602-2722,00.html. Retrieved 9 April 2007. 
  25. ^ "ERC Press Statement". ERC. Retrieved 20 May 2007. 

External links

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