Heineken Cup History & Format
The Heineken Champions Cup was first played in 1995-96, when it was known simply as the Heineken Cup. Although the Five Nations Committee wanted to promote cross-border competition, English and Scottish teams did not take part during the inaugural tournament and Romanian and Italian teams joined instead. However, English and Scottish teams joined the next year and, in 1997, a home-and-away pools format was introduced for the first time.
Today, there are usually 24 teams that compete in the Heineken Champions Cup: eight teams from England, eight teams from France, and a further eight teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales combined. These 24 teams are placed into pools, where they play four rounds of matches. The top 16 teams then progress to the knockout stage while the bottom eight drop into the Challenge Cup.
Heineken Cup Sponsorship Changes
In 2014-15, Heineken’s title sponsorship of the tournament came to an end and the tournament officially became known as the European Champions Cup, or simply the European Cup. However, as the competition was popular, most fans still simply referred to the competition as the Heineken Cup.
Heineken returned as a title sponsor in 2018, when the tournament became known as the Heineken Champions Cup. Now, the Heineken Champions Cup is universally recognised as the elite domestic rugby competition in Europe and fans regularly travel internationally to watch their teams play. In several seasons, crowds of over 80,000 have packed into stadiums to watch the prestigious final.