Ask John
Ask John - Heineken Cup special
John Griffiths
October 11, 2010

Welcome to the latest edition of Ask John where renowned rugby historian John Griffiths will answer any rugby-related query you have!

So, if there's something you've always wanted to know about the game we love but didn't know who to ask, or you think you can stump our expert - then get involved by sending us a question.

In this special edition John answers questions on the Heineken Cup following the opening round of action in this season's tournament.

Which clubs have won the title and how often?

Toulouse, the reigning champions, are the only club to have won the title four times: in 1996, 2003, 2005 and last year. Leicester, Wasps and Munster have done so twice and Brive, Bath, Ulster, Northampton and Leinster once each.

The full list of Heineken Cup winners is as follows:

1995-96 - Toulouse
1996-97 - Brive
1997-98 - Bath
1998-99 - Ulster
1999-2000 - Northampton
2000-01 - Leicester
2001-02 - Leicester
2002-03 - Toulouse
2003-04 - Wasps
2004-05 - Toulouse
2005-06 - Munster
2006-07 - Wasps
2007-08 - Munster
2008-09 - Leinster
2009-10 - Toulouse

How many teams have participated in the Heineken Cup?

Fifty-five up to the beginning of this season - Montauban were the last new side to appear in the competition (in 2008).

There are three outfits participating for the first time this season: Racing Metro 92 and Toulon from France and the new Italian franchise, Aironi, representing Lombardy/Emilia Romagna geographically. The main club in that region appeared previously in the Heineken Cup as Viadana, but the new team encompasses players from Parma, Noceto, Reggio Emilia, Colorno, Mantova and Modena.

Only four clubs have been ever-present at the top level: Toulouse, Munster, Ulster and Leinster. Cardiff would have been members of this elite group but withdrew, together with the English clubs, from the 1998-99 competition. No English club participated in the inaugural season, 1995-96.

Toulouse's appearance in last year's final brought their total number of Heineken Cup matches to 110 - one game more than Munster had played. Leicester and Leinster will become the tournament's next centurions when they play their third-round Pool matches in December.

Who set the Heineken Cup's main match records?

The highest points contribution by a player is 37. David Humphreys set the record playing for Ulster against London Wasps in October 2001, scoring a try, a conversion, six penalty goals and four drop-goals in the province's 42-19 win. He is the only player to date who has dropped four goals in a Heineken Cup match.

The former England wing, Tom Beim, set the record for most tries in a match. He crossed five times playing for Gloucester against Roma in October 2000. Llanelli's Matt Cardey equalled Beim's record the following season, crossing against Amatori & Calvisano.

Toulouse registered the highest score and biggest winning margin in the competition, beating Ebbw Vale 108-16 on the opening weekend of the fourth tournament, in September 1998. They also set the record for most tries in a Heineken Cup match that day, crossing 16 times, and Christophe Deylaud landed 11 conversions to create a record that was only beaten once - by Diego Dominguez (with 12 successful conversions) for Stade Français against L'Aquila in October 2000.

Dominguez also set the record for most penalty goals in a match when he landed nine for Stade in the 2001 final against Leicester. Thierry Lacroix kicked nine for Perpignan (also against Leicester) in a Pool match later the same year.

How are the European rankings worked out?

Before 2008, the Heineken Cup Pool seeds were chosen by nation and based on the outcomes of the previous season's English, French, Italian and Magners leagues. As a result, there were often imbalances in the draw.

To remove that flaw and reward consistency in European competition instead, the rankings were revised in 2008 to account for performances over the four previous Heineken Cup seasons.

Clubs were awarded four points for winning their Pool, three for finishing as runners-up, two for coming third and one for ending up at the bottom of their Pool. The quarter-finalists gained another point, semi-finalists a further two and the finalists two more, with the winners adding another two.

So a side that won its Pool and ultimately lifted the Cup achieved a maximum of 11 ranking points. A side that was, say, a losing semi-finalist having come through as one of the best Pool runners-up, would have been given six ranking points - three for finishing up in second place in the Pool, one for reaching the quarters and an extra two for making the semis.

Points were added together from the four previous seasons to produce a ranking.

The top dozen sides in the rankings based on the last four seasons are:

29 - Munster
27 - Toulouse
25 - Leinster
23 - Leicester
20 - Biarritz
20 - Cardiff Blues
19 - Wasps
16 - Stade Français
15 - Clermont-Auvergne
15 - Ospreys
15 - Northampton
14 - Bath

The rankings don't influence qualification - that still depends on where teams finish in the previous season's domestic tournaments. The top six ranked qualifiers then become the top-seeded teams in each of the six Pools: Munster, allocated to Pool 3 this season; Toulouse (Pool 6); Leinster (Pool 2); Leicester (Pool 5); Biarritz (Pool 4) and Cardiff (Pool 1).

The next six qualifiers in the rankings, beginning with Wasps (but excluding Stade Français, who missed qualifying by finishing eighth in the French Top 14 last season) are then given the second tier placings in each Pool, and so on. The principle extends to the Amlin Challenge Cup where this season Stade Français occupy the top seeding in their Pool.

Who holds the record for most appearances, most points and most tries in Heineken Cup matches?

Up to the beginning of this year's tournament the leading career record holders were:

Most appearances:

John Hayes (Munster) - 93
Ronan O'Gara (Munster) - 91
Anthony Foley (Munster) - 86
Peter Stringer (Munster) - 85
Fabien Pelous (Toulouse) - 81

Most points:

Ronan O'Gara (Munster) - 1138
Stephen Jones (Llanelli/Scarlets/Clermont Auvergne) - 801
Diego Dominguez (Stade Francais/Milan) - 645
David Humphreys (Ulster) - 564
Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz) - 517

Most tries:

Vincent Clerc (Toulouse) - 30
Dafydd James (Pontypridd/Bridgend/Llanelli/Celtic Warriors/Harlequins/Scarlets) - 29
Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster) - 28
Shane Horgan (Leinster) - 26
Ben Cohen (Northampton/Sale) & Michel Marfaing (Toulouse) - 24

What is the highest attendance for a Heineken Cup match?

There were 82,208 at Croke Park for the Munster-Leinster semi-final in 2009. The biggest crowd at a final was the 81,076 who saw the 2007 showdown between Leicester and Wasps at Twickenham, and the best-attended Pool match was the Stade Français-Harlequins game at Stade de France in December 2008 when 76,569 were present to see the visitors win 15-10. All told, more than 10 million spectators have passed through the turnstiles for the 1,056 matches staged to date - an average attendance of just over ten thousand a match.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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