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Build-Up To Heineken Cup Continues In Dublin

Build-Up To Heineken Cup Continues In Dublin

Leinster captain Brian O’Driscoll, Munster skipper Anthony Foley and Ulster centre Paul Steinmetz were all in Dublin on Thursday to continue the build-up to this season’s Heineken Cup.

The Heineken Cup at St Stephen’s Green

Leinster captain Brian O’Driscoll, Munster skipper Anthony Foley and Ulster centre Paul Steinmetz were all in Dublin on Thursday to continue the build-up to this season’s Heineken Cup.

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With just eight days to go to the kick-off of the 11th Heineken Cup, interest in European club rugby’s elite tournament is at an all-time high, especially from an Irish viewpoint.

Will 2005/06 be the season that Munster finally crack the Heineken Cup code, will Aussie Michael Cheika inspire his Leinster troops to the quarter-finals and beyond or will Ulster transfer their impressive Celtic League form to Europe and claim back the trophy they won so famously in 1999?

It’s all ifs and buts, however there are some things that are cast in stone, according to ERC statisticians.

* Munster, Leinster and Ulster are competing in the Heineken Cup for the tenth successive season, while seven Irish players are in the running to join the “ERC Elite Club” in the forthcoming pool stages

* Leinster prop Reggie Corrigan is two games away from reaching the magical 50-cap mark in the Heineken Cup, while Toulouse’s three-time champion Trevor Brennan, “the Barnhall Bruiser” himself, is three matches away from joining the elite list

* Only 16 players in the opening ten seasons of the Heineken Cup have played 50 or more matches and the three Irish teams have already provided nine of them

* Munster skipper Anthony Foley leads the way with 67 appearances in his side’s 68 Heineken Cup encounters

* Foley’s team mates John Hayes, John Kelly, Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara and Anthony Horgan have all earned their ERC Elite caps, while the Leinster duo of Victor Costello and Shane Byrne, now with Saracens, and Ulster’s Gary Longwell, who is now the High Performance Manager for rugby at the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland, are also members of the ’50-cap’ club

* As well as Corrigan and Brennan, Ulster’s David Humphreys, Leinster’s Eric Miller and Munster’s Mike Mullins are only four appearances away from their half centuries. Munster’s Alan Quinlan is five away and Leinster’s Shane Horgan six

* Munster, Leinster and Ulster, the only Irish winners of the tournament, are three of only four teams who have competed in each of the ten seasons of Heineken Cup rugby

* Toulouse have played 72 games in the tournament, reaching four finals, with Munster next on the list with 68. Leinster are fifth with 59 appearances and Ulster sixth with 57. Stade Francais Paris and Edinburgh Gunners will play their 50th games in the tournament in round three of the pool stages

* While the Munster legend Foley leads the way in individual appearances with 67, nine ahead of Llanellli Scarlets lock Chris Wyatt and Toulouse skipper Fabien Pelous, team mate Ronan O’Gara is the tournament’s leading points scorer.

O’Gara overtook Diego Dominguez last season at the top of the Heineken Cup points chart and is one short of reaching 650. Dominguez scored 645 points for Milan and Stade Francais Paris

* Only four players – O’Gara, Dominguez, ASM Clermont Auvergne’s Stephen Jones and Neil Jenkins – have qualified for an ERC Elite Award for breaking through the 500 points barrier, while nobody has yet reached the 25-try target set for the other individual award. Ulster fly-half Humphreys is 36 points short of joining the ‘ERC 500 Club’

* On the tournament front, ERC are looking forward to topping 4 million fans at the pool stages in round one of this season’s competition, while the 6 millionth fan in ERC’s history will come through the gates in the later pool games