The Heineken Champions Cup is the pinnacle of domestic rugby union in Europe. Every year, elite domestic teams from the countries that take part in the Six Nations Championship battle for supremacy, with the winner of the Heineken Champions Cup widely recognised as the best domestic rugby team in Europe.
The Heineken Champions Cup was first played in 1995-96, when it was known simply as the Heineken Cup. Back then, the format of the tournament was slightly different. Although the Five Nations Committee wanted to promote cross-border competition between teams, English and Scottish teams did not take part and Romanian and Italian teams joined the competition instead. However, English and Scottish teams did join the next year and, in 1997, a home and away pools format was introduced for the first time.
Over the next 15 years, the Heineken Cup continued as scheduled with only minor conflicts between competing nations. In 2014-15 though, 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.
This period coincided with one of the most controversial Heineken Cup finals in recent memory. In 2015, organisers moved the Heineken Cup final from the San Siro in Milan to Twickenham in London with only two weeks’ notice in an attempt to maximise revenue. When public uptake wasn’t great, tickets were sold for ‘free’ on Ticketmaster and only 8,000 French fans crossed the channel to watch the all-French final between Toulon and Clermont.
Heineken returned as a title sponsor in 2018 when the tournament became known as the Heineken Champions Cup, which it remains today. 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.
In the history of Heineken Cup rugby, French side Toulouse have been the most successful team. They’ve won the competition four times and have been runners up twice. They’re followed by Irish side Leinster, who have won the Heineken Cup four times and have been runners up once. However, English sides have been the most successful. As of 2020, English sides have won the Heineken Cup 10 times while French teams have won the tournament on eight occasions. No side from Wales, Scotland or Italy has ever won the Heineken Cup final.
Read on to discover even more about Heineken Cup rugby, including all the latest Heineken cup results and fixtures.