|Current season or competition:|
2022–23 European Rugby Champions Cup
|Inaugural season||1995–96 as Heineken Cup|
2014–15 as Champions Cup
|Number of teams||24|
South Africa (from 2022–23)
Romania (1995–96 only)
|Holders||La Rochelle (2nd title) (2022–23)|
|Most titles||Toulouse (5 titles)|
|Related competitions||European Rugby Challenge Cup (2nd tier)|
European Rugby Continental Shield
The European Rugby Champions Cup (known as the Heineken Champions Cup for sponsorship reasons) is an annual rugby union tournament organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the top-tier competition for clubs who compete in a predominantly European league. Clubs qualify for the Champions Cup via their final positions in their respective national/regional leagues (English Premiership, French Top 14, and United Rugby Championship) or via winning the second-tier Challenge Cup; those that do not qualify are instead eligible to compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
Between 1995 and 2014, the equivalent competition was known as the Heineken Cup and was run by European Rugby Cup. Following disagreements between its shareholders over the structure and governance of the competition, it was taken over by EPCR and its name was changed to the European Rugby Champions Cup, without title sponsorship. Heineken returned as sponsor for the 2018–19 season, resulting in the competition being known as the Heineken Champions Cup. Although they are technically two separate competitions, run by different organisations, the European Rugby Cup and the European Rugby Champions Cup are recognised as one title chain of elite club championships in Europe, with teams that have won multiple titles ranked, for example, by the aggregate of their wins in both versions.
French clubs have the highest number of victories (11 wins), followed by England (10 wins) and Ireland (7 wins). England has the largest number of winning teams, with six clubs having won the title. The competition has been won by thirteen different clubs, eight of which have won it more than once, and five successfully defended their title including a unique three-peat made by Toulon between 2012–13 and 2014–15. Toulouse is the most successful club in the tournament's history, having won it 5 times, including the very first season of the tournament in the 1995–96 season. La Rochelle are the current European champions, having beaten Leinster 26–27 in the 2023 final in Dublin, Ireland.
The Heineken Cup was launched in the summer of 1995 on the initiative of the then Five Nations Committee to provide a new level of professional cross border competition. Twelve sides representing Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and France competed in four pools of three with the group winners going directly into the semi-finals. English and Scottish teams did not take part in the inaugural competition. From an inauspicious beginning in Romania, where Toulouse defeated Farul Constanţa 54–10 in front of a small crowd, the competition gathered momentum and crowds grew. Toulouse went on to become the first European cup winners, eventually beating Cardiff in extra time in front of a crowd of 21,800 at Cardiff Arms Park.
Clubs from England and Scotland joined the competition in 1996–97. European rugby was further expanded with the advent of the European Challenge Cup for teams that did not qualify for the Heineken Cup. The Heineken Cup now had 20 teams divided into four pools of five. Only Leicester and Brive reached the knock-out stages with 100 per cent records and ultimately made it to the final, Cardiff and Toulouse falling in the semi-finals. After 46 matches, Brive beat Leicester 28–9 in front of a crowd of 41,664 at Cardiff Arms Park, the match watched by an estimated television audience of 35 million in 86 countries.
The season 1997–98 saw the introduction of a home and away format in the pool games. The five pools of four teams, which guaranteed each team a minimum of six games, and the three quarter-final play-off matches all added up to a 70-match tournament. Brive reached the final again but were beaten late in the game by Bath with a penalty kick. Ironically, English clubs had decided to withdraw from the competition in a dispute over the way it was run.
Without English clubs, the 1998–99 tournament revolved around France, Italy and the Celtic nations. Sixteen teams took part in four pools of four. French clubs filled the top positions in three of the groups and for the fourth consecutive year a French club, in the shape of Colomiers from the Toulouse suburbs, reached the final. Despite this it was to be Ulster's year as they beat Toulouse (twice) and reigning French champions Stade Français on their way to the final at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Ulster then carried home the trophy after a 21–6 win over Colomiers in front of a capacity 49,000 crowd.
English clubs returned in 1999–00. The pool stages were spread over three months to allow the competition to develop alongside the nations' own domestic competitions, and the knockout stages were scheduled to take the tournament into the early spring. For the first time clubs from four nations – England, Ireland, France and Wales – made it through to the semi-finals. Munster's defeat of Toulouse in Bordeaux ended France's record of having contested every final and Northampton Saints' victory over Llanelli made them the third English club to make it to the final. The competition was decided with a final between Munster and Northampton, with Northampton coming out on top by a single point to claim their first major honour.
England supplied two of the 2000–01 semi-finalists – Leicester Tigers and Gloucester – with Munster and French champions Stade Français also reaching the last four. Both semi-finals were close, Munster going down by a point 16–15 to Stade Français in Lille and the Tigers beating Gloucester 19–15 at Vicarage Road, Watford. The final, at Parc des Princes, Paris, attracted a crowd of 44,000 and the result was in the balance right up until the final whistle, but Leicester walked off 34–30 winners.
Munster reached the 2001–02 final with quarter-final and semi-final victories on French soil against Stade Français and Castres. Leicester pipped Llanelli in the last four, after the Scarlets had halted Leicester's 11-match Heineken Cup winning streak in the pool stages. A record crowd saw Leicester become the first side to successfully defend their title.
From 2002, the European Challenge Cup winner now automatically qualified for the Heineken Cup. Toulouse's victory over French rivals Perpignan in 2003 meant that they joined Leicester as the only teams to win the title twice. Toulouse saw a 19-point half-time lead whittled away as the Catalans staged a dramatic comeback in a match in which the strong wind and showers played a major role, but Toulouse survived to win.
In 2003–04 the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) voted to create regions to play in the Celtic League and represent Wales in European competition. Henceforth, Wales entered regional sides rather than the club sides that had previously competed. English side London Wasps had earned their first final appearance by beating Munster 37–32 in a Dublin semi-final while Toulouse triumphed 19–11 in an all-French contest with Biarritz in a packed Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. The 2004 final saw Wasps defeat defending champions Toulouse 27–20 at Twickenham to win the Heineken Cup for the first time. The match was widely hailed as one of the best finals. With extra time looming at 20–20, a late opportunist try by scrum half Rob Howley settled the contest.
The tenth Heineken Cup final saw the inaugural champions Toulouse battle with rising stars Stade Français when Murrayfield was the first Scottish venue to host the final. Fabien Galthié's Paris side led until two minutes from the end of normal time before Frédéric Michalak levelled the contest for Toulouse with his first penalty strike. He repeated this in the initial stages of extra time and then sealed his side's success with a superb opportunist drop-goal. Toulouse became the first team to win three Heineken Cup titles.
In 2006, Munster defeated Biarritz in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 23–19. It was third time lucky for the Irish provincial side, who had previously been denied the ultimate prize twice by Northampton and Leicester.
The 2006–07 Heineken Cup would be distributed to over 100 countries following Pitch International's securing of the rights. That season was the first time in the history of the competition that two teams went unbeaten in pool play, with both Llanelli Scarlets and Biarritz doing so. Biarritz went into their final match at Northampton Saints with a chance to become the first team ever to score bonus-point wins in all their pool matches, but were only able to score two of the four tries needed. Leicester defeated Llanelli Scarlets to move into the final at Twickenham, with the possibility of winning a Treble of championships on the cards, having already won the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the English Premiership. However, Wasps won the final 25 points to 9 in front of a tournament record 81,076 fans.
During competition there was uncertainty over the future of the tournament after the 2006–07 season as French clubs had announced that they would not take part because of fixture congestion following the Rugby World Cup and an ongoing dispute between English clubs and the RFU. It was speculated that league two teams might compete the next season, the RFU saying "If this situation is not resolved, the RFU owes it to the sport to keep this competition going...We have spoken to our FDR clubs, and if they want to compete we will support them.". A subsequent meeting led to the announcement that the tournament would be played in 2007–08, with clubs from all the six nations. On 20 May it was announced that both French and English top-tier teams would be competing
In the 2008 final, Munster won the cup for their second time ever by beating Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Leinster won the title in 2009 in their first ever final after beating Munster in the semi-final in front of a then world record Rugby Union club match attendance in Croke Park. They beat the Leicester Tigers in the final at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. They also beat Harlequins 6–5 in the quarter-finals at Twickenham Stoop, in the famous Bloodgate scandal.
In the 2010 final, Toulouse defeated Biarritz Olympique in the Stade de France to claim their fourth title, a Heineken Cup record.
The 16th Heineken Cup tournament in 2011 resulted in an Irish province lifting the title for the fourth time in six years as Leinster recorded their second triumph in the competition. They defeated former multiple Heineken Cup winners Leicester and Toulouse in the quarter- and semi-finals. At the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, in front of 72,000 spectators, Leinster fought back from a 22–6 half-time deficit in the final against Northampton Saints, scoring 27 unanswered points in 26 second-half minutes, winning 33–22 in one of the tournament's greatest comebacks. Johnny Sexton won the man-of-the-match award, having scored 28 of Leinster's points total, which included two tries, three conversions, and four penalties.
Leinster successfully defended their crown in 2012 at Twickenham, eclipsing fellow Irish province and former champions Ulster 42–14 to establish the highest Heineken Cup final winning margin. The performance broke a number of Heineken Cup Final records. Leinster became only the second team to win back-to-back titles, and the only team ever to win three championships in four years. In addition, the game had the highest attendance at a final (81,774), the highest number of tries (5) and points (42) scored by one team and the highest points difference (28).
The final edition of the tournament as constituted as the Heineken Cup was won for a second time by Toulon at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in May 2014.
The tournament began on 17 October 2014, with Harlequins playing Castres Olympique in the first ever Champions Cup game. Toulon retained their title, beating Clermont 24–18 in a repeat of the 2013 Heineken Cup Final, thereby becoming the first club to win three European titles in a row.
Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, all Round 1 games due to take place in France that weekend were called off, along with the Round 2 fixture between Stade Français and Munster. Rescheduling of some matches was difficult, partly caused by fixture congestion due to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Saracens won their first title defeating Racing 92 in Lyon 21–9 in 2016 final and followed it up with their second in 2017, beating Clermont 28–17 in Edinburgh.
In 2017–18 season, Leinster overcame the "pool of death" consisting of Glasgow Warriors (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the Pro14), Montpellier (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the TOP 14) and Exeter (who finished the 2017–18 season top of the English Premiership), beating all three teams both home and away. Leinster went on to face the back to back Champions Saracens, dispatching a defeat at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, to set up a semi-final against reigning Pro12 champions Scarlets. Leinster defeated Scarlets to face Racing 92 in Champions Cup Final in Bilbao. Leinster defeated Racing 92 by a scoreline of 15–12, becoming only the second team in history to earn four European titles. Leinster also won the Pro14 title to become the first Pro14 side to win such a double of trophies.
Saracens won the 2018–19 competition, defeating defending champions Leinster 20–10 in the final. Saracens were in breach of the Premiership salary cap during this edition and the previous year, in which they qualified for the 2018–19 cup. However, the EPCR have confirmed that Premiership ruling will not affect the results of the Heineken Champions Cup for 2018–19 or previous years, stating: "The Saracens decision is based on Gallagher Premiership Rugby regulations and does not affect the club's European record or current status in the Heineken Champions Cup." There were no Saracens representatives at the launch of the 2019–20 competition, held in Cardiff on 6 November 2019. EPCR released a statement saying they were "disappointed to learn of Saracens' decision to make their club representatives unavailable for today's official 2019–20 season launch".
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the 2020–21 competition took on a revised format. A similar, but revised 24 team format took place for 2021–22.
Typically, a total of 24 teams qualify for the competition, the same number as used to qualify for the Heineken Cup. At least 23 of the 24 teams qualify automatically based on position in their respective leagues. The winner of the Challenge Cup will earn a place regardless of league position.
Team distribution is typically:
Until 2018–19, the final team each season qualified through a play-off competition between the best placed unqualified teams.
For the pool stage teams are placed into pools via a draw. The teams are ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into four tiers. Teams are then drawn from the tiers into pools at random, with the restriction that no team will be drawn in the same pool as another team from the same league and tier.
Teams will play two other teams in their pool from a different league twice, at home and away, and match points will be awarded depending on the result of each game, with teams receiving four points for a win, and two for a draw. Teams can also earn bonus points for scoring four or more tries and/or for losing a match by seven points or fewer.
Following the completion of the pool stage, 16 teams qualify for the knock-out stage of the Champions Cup with a further 6 of the remaining 8 dropping into the Challenge Cup.
The sixteen remaining teams are seeded from 1–16 based on performance in their respective pool. The round of 16 is played over two legs with each team playing both home and away. The quarter-finals are unbracketed, and follow the standard 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format, as found in the Heineken Cup.[clarification needed]
The winners of the quarter-finals will contest the two semi-finals, Up to and including the 2014–15 season, matches and home country advantage were determined by a draw by EPCR.
In 2015–16, EPCR decided to put a new procedure in place. In lieu of the draw that used to determine the semi-final pairing, EPCR announced that the fixed semi-final bracket would be set in advance, and that the home team would be designated based on "performances by clubs during the pool stages as well as the achievement of a winning a quarter-final match away from home". Semi-final matches must have been played at a neutral ground in the designated home team's country.
Since 2018–19, the higher-seeded team will have home country/venue advantage for each semi-final regardless of whether they won their quarter-final at home or on the road. The EPCR may now also use its discretion to allow semi-finals to be played at a qualified club's home venue.
The winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which will be held in May each season.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe the 2020–21 competition took on a revised format. In this edition, the teams were split up into two separate pools of 12, in which they would play four games against opponents from their pool, before the top four teams from each of the two pools advanced to the knockout stage, made up of two-legged quarterfinals, and a single legged semi-finals and final. However, due to the increasing spread of the virus, only two rounds were played before the competition was suspended, and instead the top eight teams from each of the two pools advanced to the knockout stage, with all matches being single-legged affairs.
A similar format remained for 2021–22, with the top eight teams from each of the two pools advancing to the knockout stage, which featured a two-legged Round of 16 before a single-legged quarterfinals, semi-finals and final. The 2022-23 campaign will retain the same pool format, but, like 2020-21, all knockout stage games will be single-legged.
|†||Match was won during extra time|
|Heineken Cup era|
|1995–96||Toulouse||21–18†||Cardiff||National Stadium, Cardiff||21,800||David McHugh (Ireland)|
|1996–97||Brive||28–9||Leicester Tigers||National Stadium, Cardiff||41,664||Derek Bevan (Wales)|
|1997–98||Bath||19–18||Brive||Parc Lescure, Bordeaux||36,500||Jim Fleming (Scotland)|
|1998–99||Ulster||21–6||Colomiers||Lansdowne Road, Dublin||49,000||Clayton Thomas (Wales)|
|1999–00||Northampton Saints||9–8||Munster||Twickenham, London||68,441||Joël Dumé (France)|
|2000–01||Leicester Tigers||34–30||Stade Français||Parc des Princes, Paris||44,000||David McHugh (Ireland)|
|2001–02||Leicester Tigers||15–9||Munster||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff||74,600||Joël Jutge (France)|
|2002–03||Toulouse||22–17||Perpignan||Lansdowne Road, Dublin||28,600|| Chris White (England) 12'|
Tony Spreadbury (England) 12'
|2003–04||London Wasps||27–20||Toulouse||Twickenham, London||73,057||Alain Rolland (Ireland)|
|2004–05||Toulouse||18–12†||Stade Français||Murrayfield, Edinburgh||51,326||Chris White (England)|
|2005–06||Munster||23–19||Biarritz||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff||74,534||Chris White (England)|
|2006–07||London Wasps||25–9||Leicester Tigers||Twickenham, London||81,076||Alan Lewis (Ireland)|
|2007–08||Munster||16–13||Toulouse||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff||74,500||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2008–09||Leinster||19–16||Leicester Tigers||Murrayfield, Edinburgh||66,523||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2009–10||Toulouse||21–19||Biarritz||Stade de France, Saint-Denis||78,962||Wayne Barnes (England)|
|2010–11||Leinster||33–22||Northampton Saints||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff||72,456||Romain Poite (France)|
|2011–12||Leinster||42–14||Ulster||Twickenham, London||81,774||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2012–13||Toulon||16–15||Clermont||Aviva Stadium, Dublin||50,198||Alain Rolland (Ireland)|
|2013–14||Toulon||23–6||Saracens||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff||67,586||Alain Rolland (Ireland)|
|Champions Cup era|
|2014–15||Toulon||24–18||Clermont||Twickenham, London||56,622||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2015–16||Saracens||21–9||Racing 92||Grand Stade de Lyon, Lyon||58,017||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2016–17||Saracens||28–17||Clermont||Murrayfield, Edinburgh||55,272||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2017–18||Leinster||15–12||Racing 92||San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao||52,282||Wayne Barnes (England)|
|2018–19||Saracens||20–10||Leinster||St James' Park, Newcastle||51,930||Jérôme Garcès (France)|
|2019–20||Exeter Chiefs||31–27||Racing 92||Ashton Gate, Bristol||0[a]||Nigel Owens (Wales)|
|2020–21||Toulouse||22–17||La Rochelle||Twickenham, London||10,000[b]||Luke Pearce (England)|
|2021–22||La Rochelle||24–21||Leinster||Stade Vélodrome, Marseille||59,682||Wayne Barnes (England)|
|2022–23||La Rochelle||27–26||Leinster||Aviva Stadium, Dublin||51,711||Jaco Peyper (South Africa)|
|2023–24||v||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London|
|Club||Won||Runner-up||Years won||Years runner-up|
|Toulouse||5||2||1995–96, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2009–10, 2020–21||2003–04, 2007–08|
|Leinster||4||3||2008–09, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2017–18||2018–19, 2021–22, 2022–23|
|Saracens||3||1||2015–16, 2016–17, 2018–19||2013–14|
|Toulon||3||0||2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15|
|Leicester Tigers||2||3||2000–01, 2001–02||1996–97, 2006–07, 2008–09|
|Munster||2||2||2005–06, 2007–08||1999–00, 2001–02|
|La Rochelle||2||1||2021–22, 2022–23||2020–21|
|Clermont||0||3||2012–13, 2014–15, 2016–17|
|Racing 92||0||3||2015–16, 2017–18, 2019–20|
|Stade Français||0||2||2000–01, 2004–05|
The competition has been dominated by the clubs of three nations, England, France and Ireland. No team from the other nations represented have ever won the trophy, and Cardiff RFC is the only team from outside the 'Big Three' to reach the final, losing in the inaugural final. Eight of the finals have been competed by teams from a single country; six all-French finals (four of these won by Toulouse), one all-England and one all-Ireland final.
Note that in the case of career statistics, only those clubs for which each player appeared in European Cup fixtures (i.e. Heineken Cup or Champions Cup) are listed.
Up to date as of 20 May 2023
|1||Chris Ashton||Northampton Saints, Saracens, Toulon, Sale Sharks, Leicester Tigers||41|
|3||Simon Zebo||Munster, Racing||34|
|6||Dafydd James||Pontypridd, Llanelli, Bridgend, Celtic Warriors, Harlequins, Scarlets||29|
|Tommy Bowe||Ulster, Ospreys||29|
|2||Stephen Jones||Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets||869|
|4||Johnny Sexton||Leinster, Racing 92||784|
|6||Diego Domínguez||Milan, Stade Français||645|
|7||Dan Biggar||Ospreys, Northampton Saints||634|
|8||Morgan Parra||Bourgoin, Clermont Auvergne||569|
|10||Leigh Halfpenny||Cardiff Blues, Toulon, Scarlets||523|
The number of goals includes both penalties and conversions.
|3||Stephen Jones||Llanelli, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets||313|
|4||Johnny Sexton||Leinster, Racing Métro 92||294|
|6||Diego Domínguez||Milan, Stade Français||231|
|7||Dan Biggar||Ospreys, Northampton Saints||223|
|8||Morgan Parra||Clermont, Bourgoin||220|
|9||Leigh Halfpenny||Cardiff Blues, Toulon, Scarlets||176|
|Neil Jenkins||Pontypridd, Cardiff RFC, Celtic Warriors||176|
|Peter Stringer||Munster, Saracens, Bath, Sale||101|
|6||Richard Wigglesworth||Sale Sharks, Saracens||99|
|9||Leo Cullen||Leinster, Leicester Tigers||92|
|10||Benjamin Kayser||Stade Francais, Leicester Tigers, Castres Olympique, ASM Clermont Auvergne||90|
|Sam Simmonds||Exeter Chiefs||2019–20|
|9||(Several players tied)||7|
|1||Diego Domínguez||Stade Français||2000–01||188|
|2||Tim Stimpson||Leicester Tigers||2000–01||152|
The European Player of the Year award was introduced by ERC in 2010. Ronan O'Gara received the inaugural award, being recognised as the best player over the first 15 years of ERC tournaments. Following the creation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the new organisers, EPCR, continued to award a Player of the Year accolade, with the first going to Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon. In the 2016/17 season it was announced that the award would change name to the Anthony Foley Memorial Award after the passing of Munster Head Coach. The first winner of this since the change in title was Saracens fly half Owen Farrell.
|No. of wins||Coach||Club(s)|
|4||Guy Novès||Toulouse (1996, 2003, 2005, 2010)|
|3||Bernard Laporte||Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015)|
|Mark McCall||Saracens (2016, 2017, 2019)|
|2||Dean Richards||Leicester Tigers (2001, 2002)|
|Declan Kidney||Munster (2006, 2008)|
|Joe Schmidt||Leinster (2011, 2012)|
|Ronan O'Gara||La Rochelle (2022, 2023)|
|1||Laurent Seigne||Brive (1997)|
|Andy Robinson||Bath (1998)|
|Harry Williams||Ulster (1999)|
|John Steele||Northampton Saints (2000)|
|Warren Gatland||London Wasps (2004)|
|Ian McGeechan||London Wasps (2007)|
|Michael Cheika||Leinster (2009)|
|Leo Cullen||Leinster (2018)|
|Rob Baxter||Exeter Chiefs (2020)|
|Ugo Mola||Toulouse (2021)|
During the creation of the Champions Cup, former organisers ERC had been criticised for "failing to maximise the commercial potential" of the Heineken Cup. New organisers EPCR pledged to move from a single title sponsor format to a Champions League-style partner system, with 2–3 primary partners projected for the inaugural tournament and 5 being the ultimate target. However, only Heineken agreed to sign up for the 2014–15 season, at a much reduced price from that which they had been paying previously.
The European Rugby Champions Cup trophy was unveiled in October 2014.
Crafted by Thomas Lyte, the trophy is made of mixed metals including sterling silver and 18ct gold plating. The cup is designed around the idea of the star representing European rugby, including the previous 19 seasons of European rugby, as the Heineken Cup.
The 13.5 kg, five-handled trophy, creates a star shape when viewed from the top, while when viewed from the side, the top of the trophy has a coronet effect, which designers said was to reflect the crowning of the Kings of Europe. The base of the trophy contains the crests of the 10 clubs that won the Heineken Cup, to further reinforce the link between the old and new European competitions
|Austria||More Than Sports|
|Germany||More Than Sports|
|Switzerland||More Than Sports|
|Latin America (including Brazil)||ESPN|
|Southeast Asia||Premier Sports|
|Sub-Saharan Africa (including South Africa)||SuperSport|
For other territories without official broadcasters, Heineken Champions Cup games are available on EPCR's broadcast platform epcrugby
This lists the average attendances for each season's European Cup competition, as well as the total attendance and highest attendance for that season. The final is typically the most-attended match, as it is generally held in a larger stadium than any club's home venue.
The highest attended match of the 2002–03 competition was a quarter-final between Leinster and Biarritz before 46,000 fans at Lansdowne Road in Dublin.
The 2009 final held at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh was only the third most-attended match that season. The most-attended match was a semi-final between Irish rivals Leinster and Munster played in Croke Park in Dublin. The attendance of 82,208 set what was then a world record for a club match in the sport's history. Second on that season's list was a pool match between Stade Français and Harlequins that drew 76,569 to Stade de France in Paris (a venue that Stade Français has used for select home matches since 2005).
While the 2010–11 tournament's highest attended match was unsurprisingly the final, the second-highest attended match was notable in that it was held in Spain. Perpignan hosted Toulon in a quarter-final before a sellout crowd of 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain.
|*Denotes season in which COVID-19 restrictions limited attendance|
English and French rugby union clubs had long held concerns over the format and structure of the Heineken Cup organised by European Rugby Cup (ERC), predominantly in relation to the distribution of funds and an imbalance in the qualification process. Some proposals had been made that, in future, rather than Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy each sending their top-placed teams in the Pro14 to the Heineken Cup, the top teams from the league as a whole should be sent, regardless of nationality. This founding principle was eventually conceded however, when it was agreed that the top-placed teams from the four should participate in the new European competition.
In June 2012, following that year's final, Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), on behalf of the English and French clubs respectively, gave ERC two years' notice of withdrawing from the Heineken Cup and also the second-tier Challenge Cup competitions from the start of the 2014–15 season. Soon after, in September, Premiership Rugby announced a new four-year TV deal worth £152 million with BT Sport including rights for English clubs' European games - which had previously been the sole responsibility of ERC. ERC responded with claims that Premiership Rugby did not have the rights to a European tournament and announced a four-year deal with Sky Sports. The actions of Premiership Rugby were said to have "thrown northern hemisphere rugby into disarray".
Subsequently, in September 2013, the English and French clubs announced their intention to organise their own tournament, to be named the Rugby Champions Cup, from 2014 to 2015 season onwards, and invited other European clubs, provinces, and regions to join them. The IRB (now World Rugby) stepped into the debate at the same time to announce its opposition to the creation of a breakaway tournament. In October 2013, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the four Welsh regions, confirmed its full support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup. Negotiations for both a new Heineken Cup and Rugby Champions Cup were then ongoing.
On 10 April 2014, following almost two years of negotiations, a statement was released under the aegis of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announcing that the nine stakeholders to the new competition, the six unions, and three umbrella club organisations (Premiership Rugby, LNR, and Regional Rugby Wales), had signed Heads of Agreement for the formation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new, third tournament, initially called the Qualifying Competition and now known as the European Rugby Continental Shield. On the same day, BT and Sky announced an agreement that divided coverage of the new European competitions. Both will split the pool matches, quarter-finals, and semi-finals equally, and both will broadcast the final. BT will get first choice of English Premiership club matches in the Champions Cup, with Sky receiving the same privilege for the Challenge Cup.
Premiership Rugby and LNR were described as having employed "bully-boy tactics" by The Irish Times.
Shortly after the establishment of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) to administer the new competition from a new base in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the running of the inaugural 2014–15 tournament was subcontracted to the organisation it had been meant to replace, Dublin-based European Rugby Cup (ERC). This was despite the latter having been described by chairman of Premiership Rugby, Quentin Smith, as "no longer fit for purpose". This was described as "something of an about-turn" by The Daily Telegraph.
EPCR were still looking to hire a permanent chairman and director-general more than a year after their establishment.
The inaugural Champions Cup final was brought forward by three weeks due to a French desire not to interrupt their domestic playoffs. This was said to have "devalued" and "diminished the status of the occasion as the pinnacle of European club rugby".
While the 2015 Heineken Cup final had been due to take place at the San Siro in Milan, the first European final to take place in Italy, the new organisers decided to move it to Twickenham Stadium in London in order to "guarantee the best possible financial return to clubs". However, with less than two weeks to go before the final took place, it was reported that fewer than half of the stadium's 82,000 seats had been sold, with just 8,000 French supporters travelling to London to watch Toulon face Clermont. The organisers subsequently made "free" tickets available on Ticketmaster (with only a £2 booking fee applicable), before admitting to this being a mistake – the offer supposed to have been linked to a purchase of a Premiership final ticket. This was described as an "embarrassing fiasco" by the Western Mail in Wales. 56,622 fans subsequently attended the game. EPCR were said to have "failed on many levels" by The Irish Times, with the attendance figure for the final "a fitting postscript to the hastily-convened decider to what was, after all the brinkmanship, a hastily-convened tournament".