The roof of the Millennium Stadium will be closed for next Saturday’s European Cup final between holders, Toulon and Saracens.
While the atmosphere surrounding a European Cup final is inevitably a special one, the sheer sense of occasion generated when the Millennium Stadium roof is shut adds an extra dimension for players and supporters alike.
The four showpiece matches staged to date at the 74,500-capacity venue in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2011 were played under a closed roof and the victories registered by Leicester Tigers, Munster (twice) and Leinster were made all the more memorable by the unique stadium atmosphere, as well as a playing surface unaffected by inclement weather.
Anthony Foley, one of the four men to have lifted the trophy at the Millennium Stadium when he captained Munster to a first tournament success against Biarritz Olympique in 2006, believes the venue is one of the best in world rugby.
“When the roof’s closed, nothing leaves the stadium. Everything stays inside and it’s a cauldron. It’s simply one of the best venues and that’s not because Munster and Ireland have had some great days there.
“We’ve had some bad days too, but you still leave with the feeling that it’s an incredible venue to play in. You’re right in the middle of a happening city and the people love it when European Cup finals are played there.”
For Martin Johnson, who led Leicester to victory over Munster in 2002, the Millennium has an aura all of its own.
“The atmosphere is extraordinary, I’ve never played anywhere better. You can really hear it and feel it. As a player, it depends on who much you want to let it that atmosphere in. You can be inspired by it or you can blank it, but you can play 100 test matches and only appear in one or two European finals, so it’s a massive occasion. And there’s nowhere better than the Millennium Stadium,” he said.
Leo Cullen, who skippered Leinster to a record three final victories, has fond memories of his side’s astonishing second-half comeback against Northampton Saints at the Millennium in 2011.
“That was undoubtedly one of the best days of my career and the Millennium Stadium is the best for atmosphere that I’ve ever played in. It’s an incredible place. The crowd are so on top of you and, with the roof closed, you can barely hear the person next to you. I’m very jealous of the two teams in the final this season,” he said.
As Toulon aim to become the third club to retain the trophy after Leicester Tigers (2001 and 2002) and Leinster (2011 and 2012), and as Saracens target a first European title, what promises to be an enthralling Anglo-French clash in just under a week’s time will be preceded by a spectacular opening ceremony.