European Cup: 18 years on

Tue, 07 Jan 2014 18:14
Large emilentamackheinekencup95 96 Large heinekencuptry95 96 Large heinekencup95 96 Large briveheinekencup96 97 Large bathheinekencup97 88 Large toulon celebrate

Some things don't change in the European Cup. On January 7, 1996, Guy Noves was preparing Toulouse to take on Cardiff in the inaugural European Cup Final.

Some things don't change in the European Cup. On January 7, 1996, Guy Noves was preparing his Toulouse team to take on Cardiff in the inaugural European Cup Final.
And this weekend, the evergreen Noves has another big game on his mind as he attempts to keep Toulouse on course for a return to the Welsh capital for the 19th European Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, May 24.

Saracens are the visitors to Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday for what has the makings of a classic European confrontation in the best tradition of the European Cup, with the winners likely to top Pool Three and clinch a coveted quarterfinal slot.

That first Final was game four in the European Cup for Noves and Toulouse. Sunday's match will be their 136th.

On August 26, 1995, the IRB chairman, Vernon Pugh, declared rugby union an 'open' sport. Four days later in Dublin, the Five Nations chairman, Fred McLeod, announced details of a European Cup competition.

It was the first attempt at a major, cross-border tournament in Europe run on a professional basis and it immediately captured the imagination of clubs, players, coaches and fans across the continent.

Twelve clubs from Ireland, France, Wales, Italy and Romania took part in the inaugural 1995/96 tournament, competing in four pools of three with the winners qualifying for the semifinals. From the start, Toulouse, the French champions, targeted the tournament and quickly established themselves as the club to beat.

With four titles and two losing Final appearances during his tenure as Toulouse Director of Rugby, Noves' record is second to none. Can he complete the circle with a return to Cardiff this season?

Sunday's clash with Saracens will be a strong indication, but for the moment, Tuesday's historic anniversary of the first Final at the National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park comes to mind.

Toulouse eventually ran out winners after extra-time against Cardiff in a game watched by just under 22,000 spectators.

In the intervening years, as the European Cup has developed into the world's most competitive club rugby competition, well over 14 million spectators have gone through the turnstiles of more than 100 European stadia.

Some of the players who featured in that 1996 Final will tell you it was like stepping into the unknown. Yet, to a man, they all knew they were involved in something special.

"It was a great occasion and a pleasure and an honour to be involved in the first year of something that has grown to become such a spectacular success," said Jonathan Davies, who played for Cardiff in their 18-21 defeat.

"I've played in many cup Finals in both codes - WRU Challenge Cup, Rugby League Challenge Cup, World Club Championship and Premiership Finals - and this was right up there.

“It felt like we were in on the ground floor of something special. In many ways it reminded me of playing in the first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. We felt like pioneers.

"That Toulouse side was very strong and had taken the tournament seriously from the start. The Final was the day the rugby world really woke up to talent like Thomas Castaignède, who scored the first try in a European Cup Final and also dropped a goal.

"I was disappointed not to start, but came on at half-time to replace Mark Ring. We had our chances to win and it was a shame we couldn't quite manage to do so in front of our own fans."

All of Cardiff's points came from the boot of Wales flyhalf, Adrian Davies, while Toulouse scored two tries. It was 12-6 to the French side at half-time, 15-15 after 80 minutes, and it took a last-gasp penalty from flyhalf, Christophe Deylaud, to clinch the first of Toulouse's four European crowns.

"The European Cup has been good for rugby in the northern hemisphere," said Davies. "It has helped Welsh, Irish and Scottish rugby raise standards by exposing their clubs to top class French and English opposition.

"We would never fear going out to play against English, Irish or Scottish sides, but we simply weren't used to winning against the French. We gradually got there and the exposure Welsh clubs have had to French opposition in the European Cup and European Challenge Cup tournaments eventually enabled the national side to start winning in Paris."

More than 30,000 tickets have been sold to date for the Cardiff 2014 Final with the European Challenge Cup decider at Cardiff Arms Park kicking off Europe's unique weekend festival of club rugby on Friday, May 23, followed by the European Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, May 24.

There are currently no matches being played
Fri, 23 March 2018
Connacht v Edinburgh 22h00 Sportsground
Munster v Scarlets 22h00 Thomond Park
Dragons v Cheetahs 22h00 Rodney Parade
Ospreys v Leinster 22h00 Liberty Stadium
Cardiff Blues v Ulster 22h00 Cardiff Arms Park
Glasgow Warriors v Zebre 22h00 Scotstoun
Kings v Treviso 22h00 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Crusaders v Bulls 06h35 Christchurch
Rebels v Sharks 08h45 Melbourne
Bath v Exeter Chiefs 19h45 Recreation Ground
Sat, 24 March 2018
Sunwolves v Chiefs 04h15 Tokyo
Hurricanes v Highlanders 06h35 Wellington
Saracens v Harlequins 15h00 London
London Irish v Gloucester 15h00 Madejski Stadium
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors 15h00 AJ Bell Stadium
Stormers v Reds 15h15 Newlands
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints 17h30 Kingston Park
Jaguares v Lions 19h40 Estadio Jose Amalfitani
Sun, 25 March 2018
Leicester Tigers v Wasps 15h00 Welford Road
Sun, 18 March 2018
Waratahs v Rebels 51 | 27
Sat, 17 March 2018
Jaguares v Reds 7 | 18
Wales v France 14 | 13
Lions v Sunwolves 40 | 38
England v Ireland 15 | 24
Stormers v Blues 37 | 20
Italy v Scotland 27 | 29
Brumbies v Sharks 24 | 17
Highlanders v Crusaders 25 | 17
Fri, 16 March 2018
Cardiff Blues v Treviso 31 | 25
Edinburgh v Munster 12 | 6
Chiefs v Bulls 41 | 28
Sun, 11 March 2018
Wales v Italy 38 | 14
Sat, 10 March 2018
Jaguares v Waratahs 38 | 28
France v England 22 | 16
Pool 1
Team P W D L Pts
La Rochelle 6 4 0 2 20
Wasps 6 3 0 3 17
Ulster 6 4 0 2 17
Harlequins 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 2
Team P W D L Pts
Clermont Auvergne 6 5 0 1 22
Saracens 6 3 1 2 18
Ospreys 6 2 1 3 15
Northampton Saints 6 1 0 5 6
Pool 3
Team P W D L Pts
Leinster 6 6 0 0 27
Exeter Chiefs 6 3 0 3 15
Montpellier 6 2 0 4 13
Glasgow Warriors 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 4
Team P W D L Pts
Munster 6 4 1 1 21
Racing Metro 6 4 0 2 19
Castres 6 2 1 3 12
Leicester Tigers 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 5
Team P W D L Pts
Scarlets 6 4 0 2 21
Toulon 6 4 0 2 19
Bath 6 4 0 2 18
Treviso 6 0 0 5 4