Inside the Tigers’ Den - Heineken Cup...it’s been emotional

Library file dated 25/09/2004 of Martin Johnson of Leicester during the Zurich Premiership match with Northampton. Johnson has won his appeal against a yellow card which could have landed him a season-ending ban, Monday April 25, 2005. See PA story RUGBYU Johnson. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo Credit should read: David Davies/PA Rugby Union Stock 9
Library file dated 25/09/2004 of Martin Johnson of Leicester during the Zurich Premiership match with Northampton. Johnson has won his appeal against a yellow card which could have landed him a season-ending ban, Monday April 25, 2005. See PA story RUGBYU Johnson. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo Credit should read: David Davies/PA Rugby Union Stock 9

The heavyweights of European club rugby will continue to knock lumps out of each other next season but under the new guise of the Champions Cup.

So on Saturday last week Toulon and Saracens bid farewell to the Heineken Cup in fittingly physical and entertaining fashion.

The 19th and last final was won by Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon, setting up a fairytale ending for the former England great’s career, with a 23-6 win including of course a trademark drop goal.

The competition has been the breeding ground of international players since its inception, taking club rugby to a higher level of competition which some may argue even exceeds that of your average international match.

Leicester exited the competition this year at the hands of Clermont in the quarter-finals but the Tigers have truly established themselves as greats of the Heineken over the years.

Leicester famously won the competition in 2001 and 2002 with a team of players who have stamped their names in the Tigers’ history books. Back, Johnson, Healey, Lloyd and nearly a dozen others.

For much of the competition’s duration Leicester have been perennial contenders for the title, playing in five of the 19 finals.

Here is a look at some of Leicester’s most memorable moments from the last 19 years.

5 French Fury

For many in England the Heineken Cup truly came to life in 1997 when a confident Leicester Tigers travelled to Cardiff Arms Park to play some French team in the final called Brive.

That day in Wales Tigers were blown off the park by a Brive team who were simply playing the game at a different level than an English side had experienced since the game had turned professional.

Their combination of a ferocious pack lead by flankers Gregory Kacala, and free-flowing skillful backs directed by Alain Penaud and Philippe Carbonneau, blew Dean Richard’s Leicester off the pitch, finishing 28-9 winners

At the same time it took the newly professional game to a new level and kick-started a love affair with the club and the Heineken Cup.

4 That Kick

In 2002 Tigers were looking to do what no one had done - win the Heineken Cup back to back. But Leicester were coming unstuck in the semi-final against a Llanelli team kicked into a winning position by Welsh international fly-half Stephen Jones.

With time running out Tigers’ pack won a penalty 58 metres from the posts. Up stepped full back Tim Stimpson. The renown long kicker perfectly struck the ball and all eyes in the stadium and from the millions watching on BBC Grandstand watched silently as the ball first bounced up off the crossbar, onto the upright and then fall the right side of the posts, sending the crowd into raptures and booking Leicester a place in the final once again, with a 13-12 victory/

3 The Shoot-out

No one had ever seen a penalty shoot-out in rugby, least of all for a place in the Heineken Cup final but in 2009 Leicester played their part in a unique rugby drama. Tigers looked to be coasting their way to another final with two minutes of regular time left to play against Cardiff Blues in the Millennium Stadium but late tries from Jamie Roberts and Tom James saw the match levelled at 26-26.

After a period of extra time which saw no score the game went to penalties. And of all the people to miss a penalty it was one of Wales’ most gifted footballers Martyn Williams who hooked his effort at goal for Cardiff allowing Leicester number eight Jordan Crane to hold his nerve and take Tigers to the final which they went on to lose to Leinster.

2,The Hand of Back

By 2002 Leicester and Munster had well and truly established themselves as heavyweights of the Heineken Cup. Tigers were leading the Irish province 15-9 in the final but Munster had a scrum in a dangerous position. Legendary Irish scrum half Peter Stringer went to feed the ball under the foot of his hooker, in reality probably into this second rows, but one of the game’s ultimate competitors Neil Back, in a moment of pure cheek, tenacity and gamesmanship, hooked the ball away from stringer into Leicester’s side of the scrum to win a turn over and clear the danger. Munster and many an Irishman will never forgive him.

1 The Comeback.

Leicester’s second visit to the Heineken Cup final in 2001 wasn’t going much better than their first trip in 1997. Playing in the supposedly neutral Parc des Princes against Stade Francais, legendary fly-half Diego Domínguez’s had kicked Tigers to death, scoring nine penalties and a drop-goal to give his side a considerable lead. But three tries in the final 20 minutes, the final with just a minute left on the clock created by a flash of Austin Healey genius to put Leon Lloyd in for his second of match, sealed the trophy for the first time, 30-34.

There are a million others - what are yours?

Get in touch with sports editor John Evely and join the conversation on Twitter @Mercury_JohnE