As all eyes turn towards Welford Road for one of the biggest ties of the 2007/2008 Heineken Cup, ercrugby.com decided to delve into the archives to find out what happened when Leicester Tigers v Toulouse first met on Saturday, 4 January
As all eyes get set to turn towards Welford Road for one of the biggest ties of Round 3 of the 2007/2008 Heineken Cup, Leicester Tigers v Toulouse, ercrugby.com decided to delve into the archives to find out what happened when the teams first met on Saturday, 4 January, 1997 in the semi-finals. In those days the semis were played on home grounds and a crowd of 16,300 filled Welford Road to overflowing.
Toulouse were the reigning champions and Tigers were flying the flag for the English clubs in their first season in Europe. It was a game that almost didn't get played because of the freezing conditions and Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler had to scour the country to find a pitch covering and enough hot air blowers to make the pitch playable.
When the Toulouse players arrived on the Friday night before the game they felt it was going to be too hard to play on. But it was agreed that Scottish international referee Jim Fleming should make a final inspection at 9.00am on the morning of the match.
Our picture shows Leicester centre Stuart Potter carrying the ball with Toulouse outside half Christophe Deyloud handing off him and the French club's centre, Thomas Castaignede, on the ground. Supporting Potter is a rather skinny looking future England and Lions centre Will Greenwood (right) and Heineken Cup legend Austin Healey.
For the record, Leicester scored five tries in a magnificent 37-11 victory that earned them a place in the Heineken Cup final against Brive in Cardiff at the end of the month. England flanker Neil Back led the way with the opening score and other tries came from Steve Hackney, Darren Garforth and Austin Healey with Leicester also being awarded a penalty try. Full back John Liley converted three of them and also kicked two penalties, while the only Toulouse try came from wing Michel Marfaing.
These are the memories of some of the players in the picture and the referee.
STUART POTTER : "I don't think I've ever been so nervous at the start of any game as I was then. Toulouse were the reigning Heineken Cup champions and had a star-studded side. I had to play opposite Thomas Castaignede and I can remember telling myself to ensure I made a big impression on him when I had the chance to tackle him. I had to wait about 10 minutes into the game, but then I nailed him man and ball. He didn't like it much and that really settled my nerves.
"It was absolutely freezing cold and it was pretty obvious that they didn't want to play in those conditions. Some of their players were wearing gloves and they would rather have been anywhere else in the world than Welford Road that day.
"The game itself was a step up in class from anything else any of us had ever experienced at club level before. It was a match that proved the potential of a European tournament and really kick-started Leicester's great Heineken Cup tradition.
"The only problem was that after winning in the way we did we felt pretty indestructible and felt we only had to turn up for the final to beat another French side, Brive. Howe wrong we were!
"All the games between Leicester and Toulouse have been high-class affairs and I'm sure the two matches over the next eight days won't be any different."
AUSTIN HEALEY : "You could tell from the body language of the Toulouse players that they weren't happy playing in the freezing conditions. To be fair, the pitch was in pretty good nick and when the game was only a few minutes old Steve Hackney raced clear for an interception try. We never looked back after that.
"The build up to the game was full of incident because of the weather. The club had to bring in hot air blowers to try to get the frost out of the pitch and they erected a tent over the whole playing area the day before the game to help thaw it out. Nobody was sure until the day what would happen, but as soon as Jim Fleming gave us the thumbs up we were determined to make the most of our advantage.
"Toulouse arrive with a great side and as reigning champions. They had Thomas Castaignede in their back division and, at the time, he was probably one of the biggest stars on the European scene. But Stuart Potter had a great game against him and was really strong in defence.
"Potts was one of the best players never to get a start in the England side during his 10 year career. He always made yards when he got the ball and he was a great player to play outside. He had the young Will Greenwood alongside him and I can remember Will putting me in for a try in the match.
"It was arguably the biggest club game Europe had ever seen and it set out the stall for all our future meetings in the Heineken Cup. It was a great result for us, but it also did us some damage. We had just destroyed the best team in France and Europe and didn't fell anyone could touch us. That made us overconfident for the final and we got thumped."
JIM FLEMING : "There was a lot of concern over the state of the pitch and I was asked to get to the ground for 9.00am on the morning of the match to check it out. As soon as I got there I could see they had done all they could to thaw out the frost and I believed the majority of the ground would be playable. There was never any real concern over the areas from try-line to try-line, but the in-goal areas were still pretty frozen.
"I gave the game the thumbs up and to their credit both clubs agreed with me and we got the game on. It was a huge occasion and one which Leicester thoroughly deserved to win. I don't think the French enjoyed the conditions and they certainly didn't play at their peak.
"I had refereed Toulouse in their semi-final at home against Swansea the previous season in completely different conditions and they were a different side on that day. But this was the biggest club game I think I'd been involved in. It really did show what the Heineken Cup could grow into - and has now become."
HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINAL 1997 Leicester 37 Toulouse 11
HT: 20-6 Attendance: 16,300
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, W Greenwood, L Lloyd; R Liley, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, N Back, D Richards (capt)
Replacement used: R Underwood
Scorers: Tries - D Garforth, N Back, A Healey, S Hackney, penalty try ; Cons - J Liley (3); Pens - J Liley (2);
Toulouse: S Ougier; E Ntamack (capt), M Marfaing, T Castaignede, D Berty; C Deylaud, J Cazalbou; C Califano, P Soula, J Jordana, H Miorin, F Belot, D Lacroix, R Sonnes, S Dispagne
Replacements used: P Lasserre, H Manent
Scorers: Try - M Marfaing; Pens - C Deylaud (2);
Referee: Jim Fleming (Scotland)