It's official - the Heineken Cup final is returning to France after a nine year break with the magnificent Stade de France at St Denis, Paris being named as the venue for the 2010 final.
The venue for what will be the 15th Heineken Cup final was announced at Stade de France by ERC Chairman, Jean-Pierre Lux, today at a ceremony that included four players with experience of playing in a Heineken Cup final - Emile Ntamack, Fabien Galthie, Christophe Dominici and Raphael Ibanez - and the Presidents of the FFR and LNR.
As the countdown clock for the 15th final on Saturday, 22 May, 2010 was set in motion, this is what the key characters had to say:
Jean-Pierre Lux (Chairman of ERC)
"I am delighted to confirm that the Heineken Cup final is returning to France for the third time. French teams have been central to the Heineken Cup since Toulouse won the first final in 1996. A French team has been in the final for 10 of the last 13 years. The possibility of playing in front of a full house at Stade de France is sure to be a great motivation for the six French teams in next years tournament."
Pierre Camou (President of the FFR)
"France is particularly attached to the Heineken Cup, which has developed so well over the years. Although it took some time for clubs and supporters to build their interest in the competition, we are now in a position where everyone loves it. We had to have the final back in France sooner rather than later and we are all delighted it will be staged at Stade de France next year. The fact the final is returning to France will give everyone in French rugby something very special to look forward to."
Pierre-Yves Révol (President of the LNR)
"We have come a long way since the Heineken Cup kicked-off in 1995 - the clubs, the Unions and all the stakeholders. We had to work very closely to build the tournament to where it is today. There is no denying the Heineken Cup is a huge success story."
Derek McGrath (Chief Executive of ERC)
"It is fantastic being in Paris and being able to announce that in a year's time France will be hosting the Heineken Cup final for the third time. Everyone remembers the great finals hosted in Bordeaux and Paris in 1998 and 2001 and I'm sure it will be a huge motivating factor for the French teams in next season's tournament that the 2010 final will be in the French capital. Paris and Stade de France will provide a world renowned venue and world class stage for a world class event."
Emile Ntamack (Heineken Cup winner with Toulouse in 1996 and 2003)
"I still remember what a great feeling it was to win the Heineken Cup, but I had to do that in Cardiff and Dublin - never on home soil in France. Now the six French teams in next season's Heineken Cup will have a wonderful opportunity to perhaps taste that magical feeling here at Stade de France. It is a fantastic place at which to play and this announcement will give every player in France a real boost next season."
Fabien Galthié (Heineken Cup finalist as player and coach in 1999 and 2005)
"Since I stopped playing an coaching I've been able to look at the Heineken Cup through different eyes in my role as a commentator with FR2. The tournament means so much to players and fans alike and provides such dramatic viewing. It may have taken a while to break down some of the old style rugby cultures across Europe, but now it has been accepted by everyone as a fantastic competition."
Raphael Ibanez (Heineken Cup winner with London Wasps in 2007)
"Stade de France is a very special place for French players and they only ever get the chance to play there for their country or club in the French Championship final. This news means there is another very special target for them to aim at in 2010 - the Heineken Cup final. Winning the title at Twickenham in 2007 ranks as one of the greatest days in my career, although it was with an English club at the home of English rugby. The target for all French players next season will be to win the Heineken Cup on home soil - what a feeling that would be."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.