Leinster and Saracens face off in Champions Cup final but who is rugby's greatest ever club side?

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Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster lock horns against 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle on Saturday.

Leinster’s 30-12 victory over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium two weeks ago was just as dominant as Saracens’ 32-16 triumph over Munster in the other semi-final.

It’s the final fans have craved between the winners for the last three years and the two best teams in the competition.

And ahead of the match, we take a look back at the greatest club rugby sides over the years.

BATH (1984-1996)

One of the greatest teams of all time.

The Somerset outfit clinched six Premiership titles in eight years and sealed the double on four occasions (1989, 1992, 1994 and 1996).

During eight seasons, they claimed 10 cup wins and six league league titles overall, but could not contend with Europe’s elite until lifting the Heineken Cup in 1998.

LEICESTER (1993-2002)

The Tigers may have clinched the Premiership in 1995 and Anglo-Welsh Cup in 1993 and 1997, but it was from 99 to 02 where they really shone.

Under the captaincy of Martin Johnson, they won four successive Premiership titles and also secured back-to-back Heineken Cups in 2001 and 2002.

During that period, they went 57 games unbeaten at Kingsholm over a five-year spell.

TOULOUSE (1994-2008)

An incredible team.

Over a 14-year period, Toulouse won four Heineken Cups as well as six domestic titles in eight years.

Though only one Heineken Cup and French Championship double was sealed in this period (1996), Le Stade were the leading lights in the game with much of their squad made up of home grown players.

Some of the stars names from this side included Clement Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc, Florian Fritz, Maxime Medard, Thierry Dusautoir, William Servat, Louis Picamoles and Cedric Heymans.

CRUSADERS (2002-2008)

A golden era for the Christchurch team who won the Super 12 title four times in six years (2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008) as well as finished runners-up twice (2003 and 2004).

Not only did the south Island outift hold more individual records than any other club, they have also provided some of the most influential figures in All Blacks history in Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

LEINSTER (2008-2014)

Like the current crop of Leinster stars, this group was dominated by a stellar line-up of mainly homegrown talent.

Under key man Brian O’Driscoll, the Blues purred with dominance and won three PRO12 titles (2008, 2013 and 2014) and three Heineken Cup titles (2009, 2011 and 2012).

Aside from the dominance of O’Driscoll, the Dublin side also boasted international stars in Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton.

MUNSTER (1999-2011)

The Red Army first won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and lifted it again two years later, beating Toulouse in the final. Lost finals in 2000 and 2005 to Northampton and Leicester, while also winning three Celtic League crowns (2003, 2009 and 2011) and the Celtic Cup in 2005.

Irish legends to come through the ranks at Thomond Park in this time included Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Wood, John Hayes, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer.

TOULON (2011-2015)

Still one of the heavyweights in France – but not the same side that lit up the Top 14 and Europe three years ago.

The mega-rich club clinched three successive Champions Cup titles (2013, 2014 and 2015) but have not been able to transform their sparkling form on to the domestic stage, yielding just one title in 2014.

Some of the marquee names recruited by multimillionaire owner Mourad Boudjellal included Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Leigh Halfpenny, George Gregan, Ma’a Nonu JP Pietersen, Malakai Fekitoa and Sonny Bill Williams.

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Shaun Edwards will leave post as Wales' defence coach after Rugby World Cup

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England and France have been alerted to the availability of Shaun Edwards following his decision to step down as Wales defence coach after the World Cup.

Edwards has rejected the offer of a new deal from the Welsh Rugby Union and will end his 11-year stay with the Grand Slam champions once Japan 2019 is completed, departing alongside head coach Warren Gatland.

“After more than 10 years with Wales this has been an incredibly difficult decision to reach but I won’t be renewing my contract,” Edwards said.

“We have won four Six Nations titles during my time with Wales, but I sincerely hope and believe that the best days are yet to come and I am fully focused on seeing what we can achieve in Japan.”

Edwards, considered among the game’s foremost defence coaches, has been linked to roles with England and France following a successful Six Nations in which Wales conceded the fewest number of points and tries.

The future of Eddie Jones and his tracksuit lieutenants beyond the World Cup is shrouded in doubt and Edwards is also viewed as a candidate to join Fabien Galthie’s coaching team when he succeeds Jacques Brunel after the global showpiece.

A number of Gallagher Premiership clubs, including Leicester and Wasps, are also interested in adding Edwards to their staff.

The 52-year-old had verbally agreed to become boss of rugby league club Wigan from 2020 but – after requesting more time to consider his future in March – he chose not to take up the position.

Gatland has welcomed the clarity on Edwards’ Wales future, although speculation over his next job after Japan 2019 will persist.

The Kiwi admitted earlier this the week that the uncertainty was in danger of becoming a distraction as Wales look towards the start of their World Cup preparations this summer.

“Shaun has been an important part of the Wales set up over the past 11 years for what has been a hugely-rewarding time for Welsh rugby,” Gatland said.

“It’s pleasing that we can draw a line under the speculation regarding Shaun’s future with this announcement and we can look forward to preparing the squad for the RWC and the tournament itself in Japan later this year.”

Wayne Pivac, Gatland’s successor who will take charge in time for his first Six Nations in 2020, failed in his attempt to persuade Edwards to stay.

“Shaun has a great history with Wales and has been part of a coaching team that has been very successful,” Pivac said.

“When Shaun’s availability post-World Cup recently became apparent, we worked with him to offer him a new contract which he was happy with and for him to be part of the new-look coaching team going forward.

“Shaun has decided not to take that contract, which we must respect and we wish Shaun the very best in what lies ahead for him post Wales.”

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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Louie Tonkin will end Bahrain reign with stint as UAE coach Apollo Perelini's assistant in Thailand

Matt Jones 23/04/2019
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Tonkin (back row, 2nd l) led Bahrain to the West Asia Cup title in 2018 - it was a first trophy for the club in eight years.

Louie Tonkin says it is “an honour” to be part of Apollo Perelini’s coaching staff as the UAE prepare return to the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) next month.

The Bahrain coach has transformed the west Asia outfit during three years in charge and will sign off with a role as Perelini’s assistant in Thailand before returning to the UK in June where he has accepted a position working in the Exeter Chiefs’ academy.

The 35-year-old Welshman will work alongside Dubai Exiles counterpart Jacques Benade with the international squad – the South African former Emerging Springboks fly-half was part of Perelini’s coaching staff last year alongside former Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane.

But that was merely for one friendly against a touring Gibraltar team – the UAE Rugby Federation pulled the national side out of the 2018 ARC Division I competition.

They will now return to the continental stage, in Division II, where they face Guam in a semi-final play-off on May 15 in Bangkok for a place in the final three days later, where they will come up against either hosts Thailand or Kazakhstan, if successful, and a chance to earn promotion.

“It just happened really,” said Tonkin.

“I was on a course with Apollo last year and got to know him a little bit. A brilliant bloke and we kept in touch. He sent me a message about three weeks ago and asked if I wanted to join his coaching set-up for the Asia Rugby Championship in May. I was delighted to get involved.

“It’s the only chance of international exposure out in this region and it’s an honour to be involved. Hopefully I can be part of something special out in Thailand and we can get promoted.

“It’s great for me personally because it’s different rugby. These are the guys I’ve coached against and have thought highly of and respected over the last few years. To go to training sessions and work with them now is different and special. And it’s another learning experience for me.

“It’s also great to work with some top coaches. Me and (Adam, Bahrain captain and player-coach) Wallace out in Bahrain are on our own and Wallace is a player first and foremost so it’s nice to work in a team of three.

“Apollo is a great guy and a great coach and Jacques is someone I’ve had a great rivalry with over the last three years. He’s a coach I highly respect and a brilliant guy and it’s nice to all be on the same page, with similar beliefs and philosophies.”

Tonkin has transformed the west Asia outfit during three years in charge – Bahrain’s West Asia Cup triumph last season was a maiden trophy in eight years for a club that had found itself in the wilderness in more than just geographical terms in recent years.

This year they followed that historic success with even more glory, Tonkin leading them to an utterly dominant West Asia Premiership campaign in which they lost just once in 15 games – winning 14 – and finished 13 points ahead of Quins and scored 72 more points than any opponents.

They topped it off by lifting the league title with a 23-21 win over Dubai Exiles in the final.

Apollo Perelini will lead the UAE back into the ARC next month.

Apollo Perelini will lead the UAE back into the ARC next month.

He leaves with his reputation enhanced and Bahrain firmly engrained among the elite of Middle East rugby, and will now get to leave with a senior international coaching mark on his resume.

“It’s something I’m chuffed to be involved with,” he added.

“Back in Wales I’ve been involved with international age grade teams, worked with the women’s game but I’ve never been involved with international senior level men’s rugby so it’s another learning experience, working with Apollo and Jacques.

“I never intended working with the UAE coming over to Bahrain but the opportunity arose and it’s something I’m delighted to do before I leave.

“I showed interest in doing it the last few years but Apollo’s had some great coaches work with him the last couple of years. The opportunity’s come up now so it’s great to be involved.”

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