As the 25th final of the Heineken Champions Cup approaches – there are now only 100 days to go to that prestigious May date in Marseille – Alain Penaud, who captained Brive to victory in the 1997 decider, looks back at the French club’s outstanding 1996/97 campaign.

Twenty-three years on, the 50-year-old former France fly-half still has strong memories of those seven wins from seven matches, climaxed by their 28-9 drubbing of Leicester Tigers in the final in Cardiff.

“The strongest is certainly the moment when we lifted the cup,” he said.

“But a lot of images flash by, because it was such an incredible event. There are also the celebrations in Brive, which were magnificent. But I also think of the players, with whom I had some unforgettable moments.

“The British clubs certainly appreciated the European Cup better and regarded it as a major competition. For our part, we were setting off on an adventure and didn’t want to deny ourselves the pleasure.

“We made it a major objective as the matches went on, when we realised we were doing well on the pitch. Our appetite grew as we progressed.”

[jwplayer M8EL5IOM]

Penaud, father to current ASM Clermont Auvergne back Damian, remembers that Brive boasted a fearsome squad, a fact underlined by those seven victories from seven European matches.

“The cohesion between us was natural,” he explained.

“There was an osmosis, a mix of seriousness, serenity and complete insanity that made our days together exceptional and unique. It was a time when we would rush into the changing rooms to share positive craziness together. This created a rather exceptional atmosphere within the squad.

“We went through the campaign with a kind of carefree attitude, without dwelling too much on this or that opponent. There was such strength in our squad.

“There was a very powerful feeling of envy against us. But it’s a matey sport first and foremost and we felt like we could knock down mountains. In 1997 Leicester represented the Everest of rugby and we channelled that fear.”

KEY FACTS 

  • The 2020 Heineken Champions Cup final is the 25th of Europe’s top club rugby competition 
  • More than 45,000 tickets have been sold for the game at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille on May 23 
  • More than 70,000 tickets have been sold for European Finals Weekend on May 22 and 23 
  • Five of the quarter-finalists have won the title a total of 13 times 
  • Eleven different clubs have been crowned European champions 
  • Stade Vélodrome will be the fifth French stadium to stage the final 
  • Three quarter-finalists are seeking their first Heineken Champions Cup  – ASM Clermont Auvergne, Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92