There will be new ribbons on both the Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup trophies this weekend as the 2019/20 season comes to a thrilling finale some 337 days after it had started.
First-time finalists, Exeter Chiefs, come up against TOP 14 heavyweights, Racing 92, tomorrow (16.45 local time) in the 25th anniversary final of the tournament that represents the pinnacle of the club game with the winners set to become the 12th club to lift the prized silverware.
Racing arrive at Bristol’s Ashton Gate Stadium armed with the experience of two previous finals after finishing runners-up to Saracens (2016) and Leinster Rugby (2018). They come up against a Chiefs side on a high after reaching the Gallagher Premiership final and currently leading the way in this season’s tournament for both points (252) and tries scored (34).
The match will be played behind closed doors, however, fans will be able to witness stars of the global game battling it out for a place in history with comprehensive television coverage of the match on BT Sport, Channel 4 and Virgin Media in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In addition, a range of both linear broadcast and OTT platforms will take the action worldwide with epcrugby.tv providing direct-to-consumer access to the matches in markets where rights agreements are not in place.
Racing are bidding to become the first French club to win the trophy since RC Toulon in 2015 and the three-time champions of Europe are themselves going for glory this evening (21.00 local time), when they take on Bristol Bears with the aim of adding the Challenge Cup to their collection of honours.
Whoever comes out on top in Aix-en-Provence will be the 16th club to win the tournament and there is considerable experience of European success among the coaching staff with Toulon’s Patrice Collazo, a winner with Gloucester Rugby in 2006, up against Pat Lam the inspirational captain who led Northampton Saints to Heineken Cup glory in 2000.
Local authorities in the Bouches-du-Rhone department have given permission for the match to be played in front of 1,000 people at Stade Maurice-David which is little more than 30 kilometres away from Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome where the 2021 Finals Weekend will now be staged.
Immediately following the Heineken Champions Cup final, the EPCR European Player of the Year winner will be announced, the award having been decided by a combination of a public vote and the verdict of a distinguished panel of rugby experts.
More than 20,000 votes have already been cast with the Exeter duo, Stuart Hogg and Sam Simmonds, shortlisted along with Racing’s Finn Russell and Virimi Vakatawa. The fifth elite player in the frame for the accolade is Semi Radradra and a strong showing tonight could make the Bristol Bears star the favourite to claim the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy.