RC Toulon recently made history by becoming the first side to win three consecutive European titles. But are they up there with the greatest sides to have played the game? Let’s take a look at some of the contenders…
Sir Clive Woodward’s side beat the Wallabies in their own back yard in the World Cup final, and also defeated Australia and New Zealand away from home before the competition when they were at their peak. An outstanding squad, with household names and personalities like Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Leonard, Jonny Wilkinson, Will Greenwood, Matt Dawson and Mike Tindall.
Wales won an incredible three Grand Slams and six Five Nations titles during this eight-year period. The names involved in this side are legends in the sport and trip off the tongue so easily: Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and Merve Davies. This Wales team contributed so many players to the British and Irish Lions sides of 1971 and 1974 that won in New Zealand and South Africa.
The year that David Campese, quite possibly the most gifted player of his generation, ruled the world. Campo’s defining moments came in the World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand at Lansdowne Road, when he weaved his magic to score one try and set up another. Coached by Bob Dwyer and skippered by Nick Farr-Jones, the Wallabies reached that stage with a last-gasp victory over Ireland in the quarters, and then in the final showed they were far from a one trick pony, grinding out a 12-6 victory over hosts England at Twickenham.
New Zealand, 2011 - present
This is a side that, since winning the Rugby World Cup at home in 2011, have lost just two Tests and drawn two. There has been some changes in personnel but with a core group of players featuring Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Conrad Smith, impeccably high standards that have made for a series of consistent performances. 2013 saw a 100% winning record, with a last minute try (converted at the second attempt) against Ireland making it 14 wins from 14 tests.
New Zealand, 2005
Another one of the countless All Blacks teams from through the years that could have made the list, but this one absolutely destroyed Clive Woodward’s visiting British & Irish Lions side. They racked up 107 points in the three Tests, but the Dan Carter-inspired 48-18 in the second Test in Wellington was undoubtedly the highlight. This side would go on to win the Tri-Nations later that summer, the first of four successive title triumphs.
British Lions, 1974
Undefeated. 22 Tests, 21 wins, 1 draw. Willie John McBride’s men team had the lot, including a hard-as-nails attitude and a certain ‘99’ call… One for all, and all for one!
Leinster, 2011 – present
World-class quality in players such, Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathon Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Isa Nacewa meant that this Leinster side won back-to-back Heineken Cup finals in 2011 and 2012, the latter of which was with a resounding 42-14 victory over fellow Irish side Ulster. And despite the retirement of BOD and Sexton leaving for France, the team also won the Pro12 finals of 2013 and 2014, and are once again in the mix this season.
Toulon, 2012 – present
Bankrolled by local businessman Mourad Boudjellal, Toulon have changed the shape of French rugby. George Gregan, George Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Tana Umaga were amongst the first big names to play in the south of France. In recent years Steffon Armitage, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Bakkies Botha and Jonny Wilkinson have taken the side to the next level. 2013/14 saw a French Top 14 and Heineken Cup, and two more European Cup titles have followed in consecutive years. Criticised for spending huge sums of money, Boudjellal claimed back in 2013 that the financial performance of the club meant he no longer needed to put his own cash in, and Toulon have increased their turnover by 500% during his tenure, allowing the club to spend right up to the limit of the salary cap.