Leinster are preparing for a shot at immortality this coming weekend when they go head to head with Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup final.
If Leo Cullen’s charges can come out on the right side of the result not only will they secure back-to-back European titles but they will also etch their names into the history books as European rugby’s most successful side with five championships.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1995, the Irish provinces have proved a force to be reckoned with competing in 12 finals in total, winning seven of those.
The name of the tournament may have changed, but the competition still remains and to get you in the mood for this coming weekend here is a rundown of all seven Heineken Champions Cup victories by Irish sides.
1999 Heineken Cup Final
Ulster 21 Colomiers 6
It was the northern men that made the initial breakthrough in the competition’s fourth year back in 1999. Played at the old Lansdowne Road stadium, Ulster overcame French side, Colomiers with full-back Simon Mason in inspired form from the tee.
A tryless encounter, it was the French men who opened the scoring through a Laurent Labit penalty before Mason kicked four first-half penalties of his own to send Ulster in at the half in front.
Ulster legend and captain on the day, David Humphries, kicked a drop-goal in the second half to extends Ulster’s lead before Mason kicked two more to put the game beyond the French side.
Ulster centre, Jonny Bell, was named Man of the Match following the win.
2006 Heineken Cup Final
Munster 23 Biarritz 19
It took seven years but the Irish finally returned to the top of European rugby in 2006 when Munster finally made the breakthrough following two final losses.
The game took place in front of 75,000 (majority Munster) fans at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and it was Biarritz who got off to a flyer, scoring a controversial try through Sereli Bobo after two minutes. Bobo’s foot seemed to be in touch as he ran in to score but the try counted.
Ronan O’Gara narrowed the gap before Trevor Halstead went over for Munster’s first try on 17 minutes. With the sides level at 10-10 following half an hour of play, scrum-half Peter Stringer spotted his opposite number sleeping before running in untouched to put Munster seven points clear at the break.
Three penalties from Dimitri Yachvili in the second-half set up a nervy finish but O’Gara was able to kick a late penalty to edge Munster in front and see out the victory.
2008 Heineken Cup Final
Munster 16 Toulouse 13
Munster returned to the Millenium Stadium two years later for another craic at glory and yet again it was French opposition that stood in the way of an Irish side, this time, Toulouse, a European rugby powerhouse who at that stage already had three titles to their name.
It was Toulouse who dominated the proceedings early on, however, Munster would go in at half-time four points in front. Number eight, Denis Leamy was the sole try scorer after Munster pushed Toulouse off their own scrum. Ronan O’Gara was able to convert the kick and send over another penalty in the opening half.
O’Gara extended Munster’s lead to seven after half-time before a lovely move involving Cédric Heymans and Yannick Jauzion lead to winger Yves Donguy touching down and levelling the game before O’Gara kicked the decisive penalty to hand Munster a three-point win and a second European Cup.
2009 Heineken Cup Final
Leinster 19 Leicester Tigers 16
Following an epic semi-final derby clash with Munster in front of over 82,000 fans at Croke Park, Leinster had finally arrived on the big stage.
The game was played at Murrayfield and it was Leinster who struck first blood with a drop-goal through Brian O’Driscoll opening the scoring. Julien Dupuy equalised for Leicester before a monster drop-goal from Johnny Sexton followed by a penalty from the same man put Leinster into a 9-3 lead heading into half-time.
Disaster then struck as Dupuy narrowed the gap to three before Ben Woods went over for a try to give Leicester a 13-9 half-time lead.
Dupuy increased Leicester’s lead to seven points with a third penalty just after the interval, but a converted try from Jamie Heaslip brought the teams level with half an hour left to play. With ten minutes left on the clock, Sexton squeezed a penalty inside the right-hand upright to win the match for Leinster.
On the day, cult-hero, Rocky Elsom, took home the Man of the Match award.
2011 Heineken Cup Final
Leinster 33 Northampton Saints 22
This game will forever be known as the Sexton final as the Irish out-half dragged Leinster kicking and screaming to their second European title when all looked lost.
Played at the Millenium Stadium, Leinster were completely overrun by their English counterparts in the first half as Northampton ran in three tries en route to a 22-6 half-time lead.
However, cometh the hour, cometh the man and that man was Johnny Sexton. The story goes that Sexton gave his teammates a rousing speech during the break and the Ireland star was clearly able to walk the walk scoring 22 of Leinster’s 27 second-half points.
In the second half alone, Sexton scored two tries, three conversions and two penalties and was deservedly awarded Man of the Match.
2012 Heineken Cup Final
Leinster 42 Ulster 14
The first ever all-Irish final took place in 2012 as reigning champions Leinster collected their third title in four years following the defeat of Ulster.
Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy scored first-half tries for Leinster. A penalty try on 44 minutes was then followed up with scores from front row forwards, Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin, as Leinster went on to record the highest score tally in finals history as well as the competition’s biggest ever final winning margin.
They also became the first side to win three titles in four years and Leo Cullen became the first man to lift the trophy three times.
2018 European Rugby Champions Cup Final
Leinster 15 Racing 92 12
Leinster became four times champions last season when they defeated Racing 92 by three points. Played at the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao, it was the first European final not played in one of the Six Nations countries.
A dour game overall played in wet conditions, no tries were scored and instead it came down a kicking contest between Europe’s top two sides.
With the game tied at 9-9 going down the home stretch, the final will always be remembered for Isa Nacewa kicking two late penalties to give Leinster the win and sign off his professional rugby career in style.