Heated debate over the inaugural ERC15 Awards began in earnest today (Tuesday, 30 March) when a distinguished panel of rugby experts met in London to consider nominations for the awards which have been created to celebrate 15 years of European club rugby.
Convened by ERC, organisers of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup, the panel includes legends of the game such as Sir Ian McGeechan, Lawrence Dallaglio and Fabien Galthie who have exerted a major influence on the European club rugby landscape over the past 15 seasons.
Ieuan Evans, a Heineken Cup winner with Bath, former Australia great, Michael Lynagh, who played in both ERC tournaments, and leading media commentators from across Europe were also part of the nine-man panel.
The award categories are: ERC European Player Award, ERC European Coaching Award, ERC European Fair Play Award and the ERC European Dream Team of the past 15 years as selected by the panel.
The prestigious ERC European Dream Team will be a combination of the most talented players who have featured in ERC's tournaments since the Heineken Cup kicked off in the 1995-96 season.
The results of the ERC15 awards will be announced in May with the Dream Team as well as the individual winners honoured at the ERC chairman's dinner in Paris on the eve of the Heineken Cup final at Stade de France on Saturday, 22 May.
ERC Chairman, Jean Pierre Lux said. "There was a time when cross-border matches in Europe were a rarity. Players from the Four Home Unions, France and Italy only got together during Championship time - at the Five or 6 Nations and World Cups. On the club front, being champions in your own back yard was the most important thing of all.
"Then the Heineken Cup came along - and changed the face of the game in Europe for ever. Since 1995, when a 12-team, five nation competition was put together, the professional game across Europe has been transformed by ERC's tournaments, the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.
"It hardly seems 15 years since Emile Ntamack took his Toulouse side to Romania to face Farul Constanta and kick-off an exciting new concept. From those embryonic days has emerged a strata of competition that has elevated the standard of rugby in Europe at both local and international level.
"Only France had reached a World Cup final prior to the game going 'open' in 1995. Since then, and the advent of a fully professional, cross-border tournament in Europe, the French were runners-up at the 1999 World Cup, England won in 2003 and were runners-up in 2007.
"The Heineken Cup is regularly described as 'the greatest club rugby tournament in the world' and has fitted perfectly into the northern hemisphere fixture schedule just below the international tier.
"Both tournaments have provided some truly memorable moments down the years and the ERC15 Awards are about celebrating them, as well as the players who have lit up the competitions with their passion, skill and determination. ERC has demonstrated its commitment to this innovative scheme by assembling a vastly experienced panel of experts to run the rule over the past 15 seasons.
"We all have our best moments locked away in our memories, our favourite players and greatest matches. As for me, I just look forward with great relish to the next round of games.
"There are more great feats and great matches to come . . . as well as some heated debate over who should be included in the ERC European Dream Team, and who should win the ERC European Player, ERC European Coach and ERC European Fair Play awards.
The ERC15 Award Categories
ERC European Player Award - the best player from the past 15 years of European club rugby as decided by ERC's selection panel.
Leading Candidates as Chosen by ERC Panel
Lawrence Dallaglio, Rocky Elsom, Yannick Jauzion, Martin Johnson, Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Fabien Pelous, David Wallace
ERC European Coach Award - the leading coach from the past 15 years of European club rugby as decided by ERC's selection panel.
Leading Candidates as Chosen by ERC Panel
Warren Gatland, Declan Kidney, Guy Noves, Ian McGeechan, Dean Richards
ERC European Fair Play Award - the player considered by the panel to have best upheld the values of the game over the past 15 years.
Leading Candidates as Chosen by ERC Panel
Fabien Galthie, Jeremy Guscott, John Hayes, Alessandro Troncon, Martyn Williams
ERC European Dream Team - a selection of the greatest players to have graced the European club game over the past 15 years.
Leading Candidates for Dream Team as Chosen by ERC Panel
Full Backs - Josh Lewsey, Geordan Murphy, Clement Poitrenaud, Tim Stimpson, Mark van Gisbergen
Wings - Vincent Clerc, Cedric Heymans, Dafydd James, Josh Lewsey, Emile Ntamack
Centres - Pat Howard, Yannick Jauzion, Christophe Lamaison, Brian O'Driscoll, Fraser Waters
Outside Halves - Diego Dominguez, Austin Healey, David Humphreys, Stephen Jones, Ronan O'Gara
Scrum Halves - Philippe Carbonneau, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Austin Healey, Rob Howley, Peter Stringer
Props - Christian Califano, Pieter de Villers, Peter Clohessy, Darren Garforth, John Hayes, Sylvain Marconnet, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Rodrigo Roncero, Graham Rowntree, Julian White
Hookers - Jerry Flannery, Raphael Ibanez, Mario Ledesma, William Servat, Keith Wood
Second Rows - Ben Kay, Martin Johnson, Paul O'Connell, Fabien Pelous, Simon Shaw
Wing Forwards - Neil Back, Jean Bouilhou, Martin Corry, Rocky Elsom, Greg Kacala, Oliiver Magne, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Martyn Williams, Joe Worsley
No 8s - Lawrence Dallaglio, Anthony Foley, Jamie Heaslip, Christian Labit, Scott Quinnell
It was a double celebration for Wales and Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb when he called at the home of Welsh rugby to help commemorate the first anniversary of Principality Stadium and his return to fitness this weekend ahead of the RBS 6 Nations.
Prior to their departure to Wellington for the next leg of the World Series, Wales trained with England and Ireland. WRU TV caught up with Owen Jenkins who revealed the 'buzzword' which is driving the Wales squad on.
Wales head coach Rob Howley explains his decision to change the captaincy of the national side with Ospreys second row Alun Wyn Jones taking over from Sam Warburton for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations. Howley is hoping his decision will allow Warburton to rediscover his 'mojo'.
How do you follow a dancing hippopotamus - the Ospreys wheelchair rugby team has just the 'oneness' to do it say the BBC! For a decade the sight of a herd of hippos synchronised swimming around their own private blue lagoon, has lit up our television screens at regular intervals between favourite BBC One shows. But now the nation's most watched channel has relinquished its famous amphibious mammals in favour of a new show-reel which includes the Ospreys wheelchair rugby team.
Head coach Rowland Phillips and key front rower Carys Phillips look ahead to games against Spain and Ireland as Wales Women ramp up their preparations for the forthcoming Six Nations. The two warm-up games are a 'massive opportunity to refine the squad' according to the Welsh camp.
Martyn Phillips has discussed details of the newly published 'Strategy for Welsh Rugby' which puts in black and white terms the plans and direction of the governing body of the national sport in Wales for the next decade.
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips has urged Welsh rugby fans to follow in the footsteps of their soccer counterparts at last summer's Euro Championship by backing their team to the hilt in the upcoming RBS 6 Nations campaign.
Chief executive Martyn Phillips has highlighted the plans for Wales to become a breeding ground for national and elite club rugby coaches, which are contained in the WRU's 10-year 'Strategy for Welsh Rugby'.
Andrew Coombs is enjoying his new role as Nelson forwards coach. The former Dragons and Wales lock has big ambitions to become a professional coach but feels it's important to learn the ropes in grassroots rugby and where better than his home club Nelson, with friends and family close to hand.
Students at Brynllywarch Hall School, near Newtown, have transformed their own lives, and are now having a positive impact on others through rugby. The sport has had a life-changing effect on the well-being of the students who are now delivering rugby sessions to local primary schools and playing for a new mixed ability side
Wales reached their first semi-final since 2013 in the opening round of this season's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai. WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie recaps on what proved to be an eventful tournament
Wales and Ospreys back row James King, who came through the North Wales age grade system, nominated North Wales Regional Community Rugby Manager Marc Roberts, in the WRU's 'Diolch' initiative where squad players thanked those who played a part in their rise to the top.
Beating Merthyr has boosted Carmarthen Quins hopes of reaching a top eight spot in the Principality Premiership. Quins captain Haydn Pugh is delighted with his team's progress and is determined that everyone from the Under 6s through to the senior team, enjoys the ride.
When the Wales squad were asked to nominate individuals who played a big part in their early playing days, Wales and Dragons full back and wing Hallam Amos thought of his former Monmouth School rugby coach John Bevan.