The star of the show
May 21, 2009
Peter Stringer soared as Munster won the 2006 Heineken Cup in Cardiff © Getty Images
Winning the Heineken Cup has become a special achievement in European rugby, with the tournament taking on an almost mythic significance since the concept was brought kicking and screaming in to the public consciousness in 1996. Back then it was a tournament beset by the growing-pains of professionalism, but one that has grown in to the finest club competition that the world of rugby has to offer.
The road to the final is long and fraught with drama, and once you're there the pressure is unbearable. Over the years, certain players have emerged from the pack to claim their own personal moments of glory - the match winners. This weekend Leicester and Leinster go head-to-head in this year's final at Murrayfield, with a cast of players all looking to etch their names into the history books. Who will join our list of Heineken Cup heroes?
Christophe Deylaud - Cardiff 18-21 Toulouse (A.E.T) - 1996
The 1996 Cardiff side remains the only Welsh side to have made the Heineken Cup final, and in a similar manner to their 2009 counterparts their tournament was ended in heartbreaking fashion. Emile N'Tamack's Toulouse travelled to face the Blue and Blacks on their home patch at Cardiff Arms Park and despite outscoring the home side two tries to nil found themselves locked together at 15-15 at full time.
Cardiff had spurned two chances from five-metre scrums in the final moments but the boot of fly-half Adrian Davies had put them to within touching distance of the title. It was to be his opposite number, Christophe Deylaud, who claimed personal glory however. As extra time ticked away Davies and Deylaud swapped penalties to make the score 18-18. With time almost up, the referee's whistle sounded one more time. It was a Toulouse penalty, and Deylaud made sure that the hometown fans went away disappointed.
Jon Callard - Bath 19-18 Brive - 1998
Jon Callard's performance as Bath broke the French stranglehold on the Heineken Cup was nothing short of breathtaking. The fullback orchestrated one of the great finishes, scoring all of Bath's points through a try, four penalties and a conversion. His final points, a penalty in the dying moments, pushed Bath in front for the first time in the game.
With Bath ahead Brive did all that they could to win their second Heineken Cup title. First Christophe Lamaison saw his penalty attempt sail wide of the uprights and then fly-half Lisandro Arbizu watched helpless as his last-gasp drop goal failed to deliver the goods.
Paul Grayson - Northampton 9-8 Munster - 2000
Northampton fullback Paul Grayson did a passable impression of Callard at Twickenham in 2000, landing all of the Saints' points as they won their first major title. Grayson's victims were Munster, who were finding out the hard way that the upper echelons of European competition could be an unforgiving environment.
The Irish side had the satisfaction of scoring the only try through openside David Wallace, but wilted under pressure from a heavyweight Saints pack. With their dominance asserted up front Grayson's steady boot overhauled Munster's 8-6 half-time lead with a penalty. It wasn't pretty, but boy was it effective.
Austin Healey - Leicester 15-9 Munster - 2002
In 2002 Leicester became the first side to win back-to-back Heineken Cups. In a game mired in controversy Munster were furious at the referee's failure to spot 'the hand of Back' as the Leicester flanker secured the ball from a Munster put-in with television replays confirming that he had done it illegally by using his hands.
The final say was to be had by the 'Leicester Lip' however, the Marmite-esque Austin Healey sniping past his opposite number, Ronan O'Gara, to score the winning try before saluting the fans football style. Healey's winning touch was made all the more significant by O'Gara's missing of two late penalties that could have drawn his side level. He missed, Healey didn't. Life's hard.
Rob Howley - Wasps 27-20 Toulouse - 2004
With Wasps and Toulouse locked together at 20-20 with time running out in the 2004 final at Twickenham, Wasps' Wales scrum-half Rob Howley scored the most (in)famous try in the history of the tournament. Howley collected the ball on the wing, sending a grubber bouncing inches infield and in to the Toulouse goal area. Clement Poitrenaud, the French fullback, watched the ball bounce in goal before waiting an agonising second too long, allowing Howley to chase his own kick and touch down for the winning try.
The day belonged to Wasps, and as was the case with O'Gara and Healey two years before the margins between elation and disappointment were wafer thin. Howley was congratulated as a hero and Poitrenaud was left to rue a mistake that would come to characterise his career at all levels of the game.
Freddie Michalak - Toulouse 18-12 Stade Francais (A.E.T) - 2005
Unpredictable and flamboyant, Toulouse and France fly-half Freddie Michalak can never be accused of being ordinary. In the 2005 Heineken Cup final he secured his finest moment in the sport by being just that - a regular fly-half who takes the points on offer.
With Toulouse and their fierce rivals Stade Francais tied at 12-12 after normal time, Michalak's side were in reach of a record third Heineken Cup after their victories in 1996 and 2003. Stade fly-half David Skrela had landed four penalties for his side, while Toulouse's points had come from three penalties from Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and one from Michalak. In extra time, Freddie scored a penalty to give his side the lead for the first time before scoring an instinctive drop-goal to put the game out of the Parisian side's reach. Do the simple things well, they say.
Peter Stringer - Munster 23-19 Biarritz - 2006
Munster's victory in the 2006 Heineken Cup final is one of the most enduring spectacles in the professional history of the game. After two false starts, in 2000 and 2002, they were cheered to victory over Biarritz in Cardiff by a feverish contingent of their red army.
On field, the heroics were spread liberally throughout the side. Ronan O'Gara finally saw reward for his previous efforts and landed 13 points while South African centre Trevor Halstead crashed over for a try. The plaudits at the end of the game were reserved for diminutive scrum-half Peter Stringer however. His try, just before half-time, swung the pendulum in Munster's favour. With a scrum out wide just out from the Biarritz line, Stringer spotted Biarritz try-scorer Sereli Bobo crabbing in field and raced around the open blindside to score.