As it’s St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, what better time to reflect on some of the top Irish performances in the European Cup – and there are many, with Leinster Rugby, Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby having won the trophy six times between them.
1999 final – Ulster 21 Colomiers 6
Ulster shocked French club Colomiers in front of a capacity Lansdowne Road crowd in Dublin – swelled by an estimated 30,000 fans from north of the border – to register the first Irish success in Europe’s elite competition.
Full-back Simon Mason, the leading scorer in the tournament that season, was the Ulster match-winner with six penalties from six attempts, with fly-half David Humphreys adding the other three points from a drop-goal.
2000 semi-final – Toulouse 25 Munster 31
This thrilling semi-final marked Munster’s European Cup breakthrough and the emergence of their famed fan base as they stunned the favourites in Bordeaux in front of a 28,000 crowd.
Trailing 18-17 after 60 minutes, Munster clinched their passage into an unsuccessful final against Northampton Saints with late converted tries from fly-half Ronan O’Gara and centre Jason Holland. O’Gara finished with 21 points.
2003 round 6 – Munster 33 Gloucester 6
Nicknamed the ‘Miracle Match’, this round six tie opened with Munster needing four tries and a points margin of 27 to progress to the quarter-finals. A mountainous task – but they achieved it in dramatic fashion in injury time.
The hero was wing John Kelly, who crossed for his second try close enough for Ronan O’Gara to add the conversion and spark hundreds of fans joining their team on the pitch when the final whistle went less than a minute later.
2006 quarter-final – Toulouse 35 Leinster 41
Although Leinster weren’t able to take a great chance to reach the European Cup final in 2003 when they lost 21-14 to Perpignan, this spectacular quarter-final is often spoken about as the European match when Leinster came of age, given the opposition (holders Toulouse) and the venue (Stade Toulouse).
The Irish province silenced the 35,000 crowd with an exhilarating four-try display crowned by a magnificent long-range score from Denis Hickie
2006 final – Biarritz 19 Munster 23
It was third time lucky for Munster as they lifted their first European Cup after losing the 2000 and 2002 finals, and kick-started a huge party inside and outside Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
An estimated 55,000 Munster fans in the 74,534 crowd cheered as Ronan O’Gara converted tries from centre Trevor Halstead and scrum-half Peter Stringer, and landed three penalties to guide the province home.
2008 final – Toulouse 13 Munster 16
Munster gave head coach Declan Kidney the perfect send-off before he took up the Ireland job with their second European Cup in three seasons at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
It was a nail-biting affair, though, with Yves Donguy giving Toulouse hope with a second-half try, before Ronan O’Gara clinched victory with his third penalty to boost his match tally to 11 points. Munster’s try came in the first half from No.8 Denis Leamy.
2009 semi-final – Munster 6 Leinster 25
A crowd of 82,208, a world record for a club match at the time, saw Leinster produce a superb performance to dethrone Munster at Dublin’s Croke Park.
Gordon D’Arcy’s first-half try helped Leinster to an 11-6 interval lead, before they pulled clear with further touchdowns from Luke Fitzgerald and Brian O’Driscoll. Seven points from Johnny Sexton’s boot and a Felipe Contepomi drop-goal completed the rout.
2009 final – Leicester 16 Leinster 19
Leinster followed up their outstanding semi-final display with a second-half fightback to win their first European Cup at Murrayfield.
Drop-goals from Brian O’Driscoll and Johnny Sexton eased Leinster 9-3 ahead, but Leicester hit back to edge 16-9 in front. However, Leinster levelled through Jamie Heaslip’s converted try and Sexton’s late penalty secured a dramatic victory.
2011 final – Leinster 33 Northampton 22
Johnny Sexton inspired one of the greatest comebacks in European Cup final history with 28 points to win the trophy for the second time in three seasons for Leinster.
Underdogs Northampton had scored three tries to march 22-6 ahead at the interval, but Leinster stormed back with 27 unanswered points in 26 minutes, Sexton notching two tries and Nathan Hines a third to clinch victory.
2012 final – Leinster 42 Ulster 14
A record European Cup final crowd of 81,774 at Twickenham watched Leinster win the trophy for the third time in four years and become only the second side in the tournament’s history to retain it.
The first all-Irish final also witnessed three European Cup final records:Leinster’s 42 points passing the 34 scored by Leicester in 2001, their five tries – from Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe and a penalty try – beating Brive’s four in 1997 and their 28-point winning margin eclipsing Brive’s 19 that year.