Saracens are the visitors to Toulouse for a vital round five game in Pool 3 this weekend, with the winners likely to top the Pool and clinch a quarter-final slot. That first final was game four in the Heineken Cup for Noves and Toulouse; Saturday's game will be their 136th!
It was on 26 August, 1995, that the IRB chairman Vernon Pugh declared rugby union an 'open' sport. Four days later in Dublin, the Five Nations chairman, Fred McLeod, announced details of a European Cup competition. It was the first attempt at a major, cross-border tournament in Europe run on a professional basis and it immediately captured the imagination of clubs, players, coaches and fans across the continent.
Twelve clubs from Ireland, France, Wales, Italy and Romania took part in the inaugural 1995/1996 tournament, competing in four pools of three with the winners qualifying for the semi-finals. From the start, Toulouse, the French champions, targeted the tournament and quickly established themselves as the team to beat.
Noves' record is second to none, with four wins and two other finals during his remarkable tenure as director of rugby at the club. Can he complete the circle with a return to Cardiff this season?
Time will tell, but let's go back to the beginning and to the National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park, for the first final. Toulouse eventually ran out winners after extra-time against Cardiff in a game played on a Sunday and broadcast by ITV.
If you ask some of those players who featured in that final how it felt, they will all tell you it was like stepping into the unknown. Yet, to a man, they all knew they were involved in something special.
"It was a great occasion and a pleasure and honour to be involved in the first year of something that has grown to become such a spectacular success," said Jonathan Davies, who played for Cardiff in their 21-18 defeat in front of 21,800 fans.
"I've played in many cup finals in both codes - WRU Challenge Cup, Rugby League Challenge Cup, World Club Championship and Premiership finals - and this was right up there. It felt like we were in on the ground floor of something special. In many ways it reminded me of playing in the first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. We felt like pioneers. That Toulouse side were very strong and had taken the tournament seriously from the start. The final was the day the rugby world really woke up to talent like Thomas Castaignède, who scored the first try in a Heineken Cup final and also dropped a goal.
"I was disappointed not to start, but came on at half-time to replace Mark Ring. We had our chances to win and it was a shame we couldn't quite manage to do so in front of our own fans."
All of Cardiff's points came from the boot of Welsh international outside half Adrian Davies, while Toulouse scored two tries. It was 12-6 to the French side at half-time, 15-15 after 80 minutes and it took a last gasp penalty from outside half Christophe Deylaud to clinch the first of Toulouse's four European crowns.
"The Heineken Cup has been good for rugby in the northern hemisphere," said the now BBC Wales TV pundit. "It has helped Welsh, Irish and Scottish rugby raise standards by exposing their teams to top class French and English opposition.
"We would never fear going out to play against English, Irish or Scottish sides, but we simply weren't used to winning against the French. We gradually got there and the exposure Welsh clubs have had to French opposition in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup tournaments eventually enabled the national side to start winning in Paris."
The First Heineken Cup Final Teams
Cardiff: Mike Rayer; Steve Ford (Nigel Walker 97), Mike Hall, Mark Ring (Jonathan Davies 41), Simon Hill; Adrian Davies, Andy Moore; Andy Lewis, Jon Humphreys, Lyndon Mustoe, John Wakeford, Derwyn Jones, Emyr Lewis, Owain Williams, Hemi Taylor (captain)
Replacements Unused: Andy Booth, Howard Stone, Keith Stewart, Mike Griffiths, Paul Young
S corer: Pens: A Davies 6
Toulouse: Stephane Ougier; Emile Ntamack (captain), Philippe Carbonneau (Eric Artiguste 93), Thomas Castaignede, David Berty (Ugo Mola 69); Christophe Deylaud, Jerome Cazalbou; Christian Califano, Patrick Soula, Christophe Portolan, Hugues Miorin, Franck Belot, Didier Lacroix (Richard Castel 58), Herve Manent, Sylvain Dispagne
Replacements Unused: Christophe Guiter, Nicolas Bacque, Olivier Carbonneau, Pascal Lassere
Scorers: Tries: T Castaignede, J Cazalbou; Con: C Deylaud; Pens: C Deylaud 2; DG: T Castaignede.
Referee: Dave McHugh (Ireland)
Read the match report here
FIRST HEINEKEN CUP FINAL FACTS
- The first points scored in a Heineken Cup final came from the boot of Toulouse outside half Christophe Deylaud
- The first try in a Heineken Cup final was scored by Thomas Castaignede.
- Philippe and Olivier Carbonneau became the first set of brothers to receive Heineken Cup winners' medals.
- Philippe Carbonneau returned to Cardiff with Brive in 1997 to make it back-to-back wins and also played in the 1998 Heineken Cup final in Bordeaux.
- The crowd of 21,800 was the biggest in the tournament that season and stood as a record until the second final in Cardiff in 1997, which rose to 41,664