The top five scores from European rugby's showpiece game, featuring French flair and Irish wit
Greatest Champions Cup Final Tries
The European Champions Cup final is often thought of as a tight and tense affair, filled with penalties, scrums and muddy bodies – but this might well be a misnomer.
The year 2020 didn’t bring much joy to the world, but the year’s European climax was a celebration of attacking rugby. Exeter Chiefs defeated Racing 92 by 31-27 in a match dominated by the talents of Jack Nowell, Finn Russell and Simon Zebo.
Despite its reputation, the competition’s final has provided fans with spectacular moments since it was founded as the Heineken Cup way back in 1995-96. Side-stepping masterclasses, raw pace and clever thinking have all found their way into the showpiece – so we picked out five of the best.
Greatest Champions Cup Final Tries
Sébastien Viars (Brive), v Leicester, 1997
This was one of the most dominant performances seen in a European campaign. Brive did not lose a game on their way to the trophy, demolishing Leicester 28-9 in the final. Their back-line, made up primarily of local players, was sensational – it boasted a 9-10-12 axis of Philippe Carbonneau, Alain Penaud and Christophe Lamaison. All were seasoned internationals.
The tone was set after only four minutes. Already 3-0 up following an early Lamaison penalty, terrifying Polish No 8 Grzegorz Kacała battered through four defenders with a hand-off resembling a rivet gun.
The Brive backs had front-foot ball, allowing Penaud to throw a flat cut-out pass to full-back Viars, who burst through a gap the size of the English Channel. Inspired by Kacała, Viars threw two hand-offs of his own, sending first Austin Healey and then John Lilley into orbit, balletically tiptoeing along the sideline while throwing fists like Mike Tyson.
Sébastien Carrat scored two sensational tries of his own with his 10.3secs 100m pace, but the combination of beauty and brutality win the day here.
Leon Lloyd (Leicester), v Stade Français, 2001
The Leicester Tigers would lick their wounds and return, winning their first European Cup in a brilliant final, defeating Stade Français (and the Parisians’ beautiful kit) 34-30.
Leon Lloyd’s second try is the game’s most famous moment, set up by an Austin Healey break to give Tigers the lead with only two minutes left. However, the more skilful try was his first, created wizard-like by a Pat Howard kick more finely measured than Michelangelo’s David (see 1:40 on video).
Is it a cross-kick? A kick-pass? A delicate chip? Some combination of all three finds Geordan Murphy on the right wing, who just has time to poke the ball through himself, before being clattered by the late Christophe Dominici.
Two cover defenders seem to be in prime position – but they haven’t accounted for the speeding Lloyd, who surely would have been ticketed if he’d ever stopped running this game. He hacks on, survives a stumble and reaches out to help Leicester to one of their most famous victories.
Peter Stringer (Munster), v Biarritz, 2006
A try which will go down in popular folklore – remembered by fans in Limerick bars, sung about on Cork’s streets and forever used by coaches to tell their blindside defenders to “Always pay attention!”
Munster’s love-hate relationship with the Heineken Cup had been mainly hate up until this point and so, like many relationships, Stringer uses a touch of misdirection to help his side out (1:15 in the clip).
With the game locked at 10-10, Munster have a scrum in the Biarritz 22, and Stringer sets up to fling the ball infield to Ronan O’Gara. So far, so very typical.
However, pre-empting the O’Gara option, left winger Sireli Bobo drifts across to defend in the ten channel. No one tells star defender Serge Betsen, still straining away on the scrum’s blindside.
If a try could ever resemble a poker hand then this is it, with Stringer bluffing the pass before simply scooting straight ahead to cash in his chips, his face emblazoned with the grin of a man who has won big.
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Yves Donguy (Toulouse), v Munster, 2008
Munster would win their second European title two years later with a 16-13 triumph over Toulouse, but this time the standout moment came from their French opposition.
Trailing 13-6 with half an hour left, Toulouse produced a moment of inspiration worthy of a far more prominent place in rugby history than one buried eight minutes deep in a YouTube highlights video (7:50 to be exact).
Cédric Heymans, who had been part of the brilliant 1997 Brive back-line, catches a kick to touch and takes the quick lineout, heading upfield with levels of blind optimism which only French full-backs can achieve.
He chips the ball over three Munster players, regathers and then nudges it again past the onrushing Lifeimi Mafi. The centre forces Heymans out, but Yannick Jauzion pulls out a slide tackle (illegal now, sensational then) to bobble it forward, taking out two defenders.
Yves Donguy was left with the freedom of the Millennium Stadium, and scores with the insouciance the try deserves.
Nick Abendanon (Clermont), v Toulon, 2015
Being a Clermont supporter in big games is a curse from the gods, and its unclear whether Nick Abendanon scoring one of the greatest Champions Cup final tries helped to stitch broken hearts or was a tragic reminder of the talent possessed by these final-losing squads.
This was their second effort at winning the big dance, and they seemed out of it – eight points down against the Toulon galacticos. However, Abendanon’s ears pricked up like a spaniel when Bryan Habana sliced a clearance kick down his throat, giving the full-back a broken-field opportunity in the opposition half (see 3:50 in highlights).
First needing to beat a kick-chase led (of all people) by Guilhem Guirado, Abendanon draws a lazy arc infield, picking out the exhausted figure of tighthead prop Carl Hayman, who was never quite best known for his ability in the back-field.
Hayman looks like a child seeing their first shooting star as Abendanon gently chips the ball over him, head slowly rotating as his face betrays the following emotions: wonder, realisation, innocence.
Cynics will say he should have body-checked the Clermont man, romanticists might applaud his integrity, while realists will point out that Toulon won the final regardless. Sorry Clermont.
What do you think is the greatest Champions Cup final try? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.
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