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What Was The Worst Ever Performance By Irish Sides In The European Cup?

What Was The Worst Ever Performance By Irish Sides In The European Cup?
By Conor Neville
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It's early to be writing off the Irish sides entirely - Munster have played and won one match and still have every chance of emerging from their pool - but it has been a bleak beginning.

Ulster were well beaten in their opener at home to Saracens on Friday while Leinster will now need close to a miracle to advance to quarter finals - although Wasps stunning win over Toulon may have thrown a slightly more flattering light (if that's not putting it too strongly) on last week's horror show in the RDS.

JANUARY UPDATE: Leinster, Munster and eventually Ulster were dumped out of the competition in the first round. The quarter-finals will now proceed with no Irish club team.

The 2015-16 season thus far has witnessed the renaissance of the English sides, the collective who were most insistent on the reform of the competition two years back.

Since the Heineken Cup was established in 1995, the Irish provinces have generally excelled, with the forgotten exception of a couple of seasons in the late 1990s.

The first ever Heineken Cup, which proceeded despite the self-imposed absence of the English clubs (English rugby's attitude to the old Heineken Cup was always a bit like the UK's attitude to the European Union as a whole), consisted of only 12 teams.

There were four groups of three with only the top team emerging from each group. The whole competition was run off between November and early January.


Leinster pipped a Silvio Berlusconi owned Milan outfit in their first ever European tie and then beat Pontypridd by a point in Lansdowne Road to qualify for the semi-finals.

Read more: Balls Remembers: A Profile Of The First Leinster Heineken Cup Team In 1995

Munster had beaten Swansea in their opener in Thomond Park but were then beaten 19-12 out in Castres.

In the early days of the Heineken Cup, the result of a Munster game was almost entirely dependent on whether it was played in Limerick or not.


In the first three seasons of the competition, Munster never lost in Thomond Park and never won anywhere else. They did lose one home game to Cardiff in September 1997 but that game was played in Musgrave Park.

Only twice have the knockout stages of the European Cup contained zero Irish teams - 1996-97 and 1997-98.

There was the odd big win in those years. Munster destroyed a much feted Wasps team 49-22 in October 1996 and then knocked over Harlequins 23-16 the following year. Leinster took down Leicester in September 1997.


Ulster, the first Irish team to make the breakthrough in 1999 (although the English teams absented themselves again that year), were consistently awful in the first few seasons.

There the odd been the odd (relatively) poor year since. In 2004-05 and 2006-07, both Leinster and Munster were dumped out in the quarter-final phase. The latter was the most surprising given that Leinster had swaggered through the pool phase and Munster were defending champions.

In every other season this century, the semi-finals have included at least one Irish province.


Read more: Balls Remembers: A Profile Of The First Munster Heineken Cup Team In 1995

Read more: 7 Irish Players Who've Won Heineken Cups With Non-Irish Clubs

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