7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
David Humphreys was reunited with an old friend at the end of the Irish team's squad get-together in Dublin, when he got his hands on the European Rugby Cup he lifted after Ulster's magnificent victory over Colomiers at Lansdowne Road in 1999.
But of even greater importance to the Irish No 10 was that he also got to touch the Heineken Cup trophy that Perpignan and Toulouse will be battling to win back at the home of Irish rugby in Dublin on 24 May.
Tournament organisers ERC decided to get the 1999 trophy out of the bank vaults and put it alongside the current cup to celebrate the fact the final is returning to Dublin.
And it seemed only natural to invite the former Ulster skipper to take a look at the trophy he once held aloft with so much pride . . . and take a peek at the one he craves most of all.
'There is no doubt that the goal of every professional rugby player in Europe is to get his hands on the Heineken Cup. It is the biggest title in town, the one everyone strives to win,' said Humphreys.
'It's a great shame that neither Munster nor Leinster could reach the final this season, especially as it is back at Lansdowne Road, but it is still going to be a great game for people to watch.
'There is still a touch of the Irish in both teams, with Trevor Brennan in the Toulouse side and Phil Murphy in the Perpignan line-up. Trevor was an icon in Irish rugby and in a very short space of time he has become the same in Toulouse.
'Phil learned his rugby in Belfast, and went on to play for the Irish Schools, and it will be dream for him to play at Lansdowne Road once again. One way or another, there is going to be an Irish winner again in Dublin.'
When Ulster reached the final in 1999 it was in a year when the English clubs boycotted the tournament and there was no title sponsor. That's why ERC instituted their own trophy, 'The European Rugby Cup'. A replica of that trophy commands pride of place in the rugby museum at Ravenhill, although Humphreys says all thoughts among the current squad are of landing 'the big one' in the near future.
'We've had a difficult time in the Heineken Cup since we won the title in 1999. But the impact that success had on rugby in Ulster, and across Ireland, was incredible,' said Humphreys.
'We've held on to the 10,000+ gates we were getting that season and the profile of the game in Ireland has been heightened even further following the more recent success of Munster and Leinster.
'All the talk at Ravenhill is already about next year's Heineken Cup competition and what we have to do to qualify for the knock-out stages. That is where every team wants to be.'
As regards the all-French affair at Lansdowne Road on 24 May, Humphreys believes Toulouse will go into the game as favourites and should be good enough to pick up their second title.
'Perpignan have proved to be the form team away from home, beating Llanelli in the quarter-final and Leinster in the semi-final, but I still think Toulouse will have a little too much fire-power for them,' said Humphreys.
'They are a team that can play total rugby and I think the Trevor Brennan factor will come into play. Trevor wants a winners medal very badly and I'm sure the people of Dublin are going to turn up in their droves to support the home town boy.
'I don't think Trevor's Toulouse team mates will want to suffer the consequences of letting him down at Lansdowne Road.'