The dream domestic match-ups
August 28, 2013
Will the 2013 Super Rugby champions the Chiefs ever face the Heineken Cup title-holders? © Getty Images
The proposed 'World Cup of Clubs' appears to be taking baby steps towards becoming a reality with reports on Tuesday suggesting Toulon, the Heineken Cup holders, have agreed a date to play the Chiefs, the current Super Rugby champions. It seems they have earmarked February 2 as a possible day for what would be a mammoth clash.
With this in mind, we have put together a list of match-ups we would have loved to see involving teams from yesteryear. The best club side in the northern hemisphere against the southern hemisphere elite; a mouth-watering prospect.
Bath Rugby v Crusaders, 1998
Bath became the first English side to win the Heineken Cup 15 years ago when they beat Brive 19-18 but they have never returned to the same heights. It was the last hurrah of a team who were reaching the latter years of their collective careers. For the Crusaders, their triumph over the Auckland Blues broke their rival's monopoly on the blossoming tournament in what was its third year.
So this match-up would see a team packed with experience in the twilight years of their careers come up against a side who would go on to dominate southern hemisphere rugby scooping three consecutive titles between 1998 and 2000. It would have been a brilliant spectacle with the sprightly Mike Catt coming up against Andrew Mehrtens at No.10 while Jon Callard, then 32, would have faced a back three including James Kerr, the man who scored in the 1998 final. In the forwards those wise old heads of Martin Haag and Nigel Redman would have tried to get one over a Crusaders pack that included their current coach Todd Blackadder. Hold on to your hats.
Prediction: We feel the Crusaders would have beaten Bath had they met. But the Canterbury franchise would have come out of the match with plenty of bruises to show for their efforts.
Bath's Andy Nicol lifts the 1998 Heineken Cup while Todd Blackadder holds aloft the corresponding trophy in the southern hemisphere © Getty Images
Leicester Tigers v Brumbies, 2001
The Brumbies had lost the 2000 Super Rugby final but bounced back the following year to smash the Sharks 30-6 to become the first Australian side to win the southern hemisphere tournament. For the Tigers, they were in their prime with a team consisting of foreign talent and British & Irish Lions. They took the Heineken Cup in 2001, thanks to a last-gasp try from Leon Lloyd, and also won the Premiership title that year against Bath. They achieved the same feat the following year.
A few of the players from both sides met on the fields of Australia that summer in the Lions series with the likes of Martin Johnson coming up against Justin Harrison and George Gregan stepping on to the same turf as Austin Healey. These were two teams packed with Test talent with the Brumbies being able to call upon Joe Roff, Stephen Larkham and Rod Kafer while the Tigers had their own Australian in the guise of Pat Howard.
Prediction: We think the Tigers would have taken this. Their brawn and skill would have seen them overpower the Brumbies.
Leicester's Darren Garforth and Neil Back lift the Heineken Cup while Brumbies' George Gregan enjoys their success © Getty Images
Toulouse v Crusaders, 2005
Having taken four Super Rugby titles (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002), not winning in 2003 and 2004 was deemed a failure for the Crusaders. Over those five years where they won a quartet of titles, they were without doubt the best side in the world. But they underwent transition in the fallow years of 2003 and 2004 and come '05, they had found their swagger once again with Dan Carter at No.10 and Richie McCaw at seven. Added to those great Kiwis were All Blacks such as Aaron Mauger, Leon MacDonald and Reuben Thorne so it was no surprise when they eased past the Waratahs 35-25 to take the title in 2005.
In the northern hemisphere, Toulouse had already won two European titles and added a third in 2005 beating French neighbours Stade Francais 18-12 in extra-time. The match-up would have seen Frederic Michalak against Carter at No.10 with Vincent Clerc against Rico Gear. The front-row battle would have also been epic as Greg Somerville would have looked to get one over Jean-Baptiste Poux and on the other side of the scrum David Hewett would have faced Omar Hasan.
Prediction: We've marked this down as a win for the Kiwis. But like the 2005 Heineken Cup final, we feel they would have needed extra-time.
The imaginary game would have seen Toulouse's Fabien Pelous against Richie McCaw © Getty Images
Munster v Crusaders, 2008
Munster buried years of hurt winning the 2006 Heineken Cup and many of those players scooped their second European title two years later when they beat Toulouse 16-13 in Cardiff. Players such as Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara, Paul O'Connell, Donnacha O'Callaghan, David Wallace and Marcus Horan wrote their names into Munster history as the men in red established themselves as the dominant force in Europe.
But that proved to be their last Heineken Cup title to date. And the same occurred in the southern hemisphere as the Crusaders took the 2008 Super Rugby gong, something they have not managed since. However, like Munster, their team was packed with household names as they scooped their seventh Super Rugby title. Imagine the titanic battle in the second-row between Ali Williams and Brad Thorn as they faced off versus O'Connell and O'Callaghan. In the backs, ex-All Black Doug Howlett, who played for Crusaders' rivals the Blues, would have looked to cause Scott Hamilton and Kade Poki some headaches.
Prediction: Either way, the winner would paint the town red but we think it would have been Munster's supporters celebrating. Like the rest of the clashes, it would have been ferociously close but their back five would have seen them over the line.
Two of the modern era's greatest players Paul O'Connell and Richie McCaw would have butted heads in this match © Getty Images
Leinster v Bulls, 2009
The Bulls created history in 2007 when they became the first South African side to win a Super Rugby title but further success was to come in 2009 and 2010 for the Pretoria-based franchise. Their team was simply brilliant. And the Chiefs, who would break their Super Rugby duck in 2012, had no answer to the men in blue's superiority in '09 when they travelled to the Highveld to take them on in the final. Bryan Habana was irresistible on the wing grabbing a brace while Pierre Spies and Fourie du Preez formed a flawless partnership at the back of the scrum. And then there were the locks - two modern greats Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. The Bulls had a field day against the Kiwis and won 61-17.
But, in our mind, they would have had it much less easy against Leinster. The two sides were in a similar stage of development and Leinster's 19-16 triumph over Leicester in the Heineken Cup final was to be their first of three titles over the coming years. They had a wonderful swagger with one of the world's best players Brian O'Driscoll marshalling them at outside centre with future Lions Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip also integral to their side. And then there was Rocky Elsom. He played a season for Leinster, was undoubtedly the best player in the Heineken Cup and picked up a winner's medal - not a bad return.
Prediction: This is fiendishly difficult to call but we feel the Bulls would have prevailed by a point or two.
Two of the world's finest players, Brian O'Driscoll and Bryan Habana © Getty Images
What match-ups would you have liked to see? Let us know below
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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