18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
Amárach research released today saw Ireland's leading sponsorship decision makers identify the Heineken Cup sponsorship as Ireland's best overall sponsorship of 2004.
"We are delighted that Heineken will continue their association with us through until 2009, adding continuity and even greater stability to a tournament that is enjoying unparalleled appeal and success in our 10th anniversary season," said ERC Chairman, Jean-Pierre Lux.
"The Heineken Cup has developed into the world's premier club rugby tournament and ERC and Heineken can now look forward to embarking on our second decade together and ensuring the Heineken Cup continues to go from strength to strength."
Jacco van der Linden, Marketing Manager Heineken, said: "We are delighted to announce our continued partnership with ERC as title sponsor of the Heineken Cup. The Heineken Cup is a unique event and has succeeded in bringing a renewed excitement to the game, it also brings a great level of variety, offering more rugby occasions and memorable rugby moments for us all to enjoy and savour.
"Over the past decade Heineken's involvement as title sponsor has contributed to the growth the tournament enjoys today as the premier club rugby tournament in the Northern Hemisphere. In tandem with this, the sponsorship offers Heineken in Ireland, France, Italy and the UK a unique opportunity to participate in and contribute to a premium event on a pan-European scale.
"It is a great tournament to be involved in as the support and loyalty of the fans is truly unique to the competition. The excitement and energy synonymous with any Heineken Cup match continues even after the final whistle is blown. And we look forward to working in partnership with the ERC to ensure the Heineken Cup continues to deliver even greater rugby moments for fans across Europe."
Speaking at the announcement, Derek McGrath, ERC Chief Executive said: "This a good news story for ERC and Heineken. The major investment that Heineken has made in this tournament and in the execution of its sponsorship, has been integral to the remarkable growth of the Heineken Cup brand and its level of penetration internationally. We are delighted with the new deal with Heineken and the continuity derived from the ongoing partnership.
"Title sponsorship is a critical element of our commercial programme. An association with a premium global brand with excellent brand attributes, such as Heineken, offers a natural match and synergy with what is one of the world's leading sports properties.
"Together we are determined that this wonderful and engaging tournament can continue to grow for the benefit of the shareholder six unions, clubs and supporters."
Heineken Cup action will return in April when the quarter-finals (April 2-4) and semi-finals (April 22-24) will be played. The 10th anniversary final will take place in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on Sunday, 22 May at 3.00pm. Close to 25,000 tickets have already been sold for the final.
Heineken Cup Facts and Figures
* The inaugural tournament in 1995 consisted of 12 teams from five countries with a total of 15 matches being played. Now the 24 teams from six nations (England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales) play 79 matches in each tournament.
* Some of the landmark matches have been:
100th game - Bourgoin 18, NEC Harlequins 30 (27.9.97)
200th game - Pontypridd 22, Colomiers 14 (26.11.99)
300th game - Stade Francais 40, London Wasps 10 (21.10.00)
400th game - Leicester Tigers 54, Perpignan 15 (3.11.01)
500th game - Leicester Tigers 7, Munster 20 (13.4.03)
600th game - Biarritz Olympique 23 v Leicester Tigers 8 (30.10.04)
* There have been a total of 654 matches played so far - with six more to come before the 10th anniversary final at Murrayfield on Sunday, 22 May.
* There have been 872 hours and 40 minutes of tournament rugby played - including extra time in the 1996 Toulouse and Cardiff final and 1997 / 1998 semi-final between Toulouse and Brive. * There have been 3,250 tries scored at an average of just under five tries per match.
* The team with the most appearances in the tournament is Toulouse with 69. Only four teams have played in every season of the tournament - Toulouse (champions in 1996 and 2003, runners-up 2004), Ulster (winners 1999), Munster (runners-up 2000, 2002) and Leinster.
* The most games played by a player in the tournament are 66 by Munster and Ireland No 8 Anthony Foley. The leading scorer in the tournament is Munster's Ronan O'Gara with 649 points.
* The 654 games have been controlled by 73 different referees. Dave McHugh (Ireland) holds the distinction of being the only referee to officiate at two Heineken Cup finals - in 1996 and 2001.
* A total of 53 teams have so far taken part in the Heineken Cup: France 15; England 12; Wales 11; Italy 7; Scotland 6; Ireland 3; Romania 1.* A record 630,810 spectators attended the Pool rounds of this year's Heineken Cup tournament.