This year is significant for world rugby, with the World Cup approaching. However, all attention will be on Dublin this weekend as four teams compete for the top European rugby titles. Afterward, the focus shifts to Cape Town for the United Rugby Championship Grand Final, marking the culmination of the 2022/23 domestic season.
Dublin is a party town at the best of times, but this weekend there will be a particular buzz as rugby lovers from across Europe descend on the Irish capital for a weekend that’s ear-marked by thousands as soon as the final’s weekend date and location is announced.
Last year, the European Rugby Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup finals took place on the French Riveria, as Marseille’s Stade Velodrome played host to both matches.
It was a triumphant weekend for the host nation, with Lyon winning the latter and La Rochelle being crowned the Kings of European club rugby, beating Leinster courtesy of a last-minute conversion by New Zealand’s Ihaia West.
Once again, the Friday night and Saturday afternoon fixtures drew huge crowds. The fireworks and atmosphere in the stands merely serving to accentuate the stunning trophies handed to the winning captains on the pitch post-match.
The one common theme running through all three finals is the presence of the trophies that await the winners, with this triumvirate of silverware emanating from Thomas Lyte’s fabled workshop in London.
The new trophies for the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup were first handed to the winners in 2015.
The United Rugby Championship – which involves teams from Italy, Scotland, South Africa, Ireland and Wales – meanwhile, was unveiled as recently as 2022. And this very modern trophy is as unique as the background to a tournament first played for in 2001.
Known as ‘The Array’, the trophy isn’t just a symbol of the innovation and collaboration responsible for its creation, it’s also a reflection of the consultation between the players and coaches who have lifted similarly prestigious trophies in the past.
Their comments – which focused primarily on the weight, size and ability to drink from the trophy – formed the basis of the silverware which will be lifted by either the Cape Town-based Stormers or Ireland’s Munster in front of a packed crowd at a stadium that was one of the flagship venues for the 2010 football World Cup.
For the Stormers, it’s a chance to lift the trophy twice in succession, after they won an all-South African affair against the Pretoria-based Bulls at the same venue 12 months ago.
In fact, if La Rochelle overcome Leinster to spark another victory parade on France’s west coast, then the trophy winners from two of the three competitions will already be very familiar with Thomas Lyte’s craft.
All-in-all, though, it’s a hugely exciting period of the season, and one that Thomas Lyte is enduringly proud to play a part in.
Despite the venues beng separated by the small matter of almost 9000 miles of land and sea, the excitement in Dublin this weekend will be matched in Cape Town a week later. At this time of year, the temperatures are likely to be very similar too.
The most intrepid of rugby supporters will doubtless make their way to both events, sampling the culture and enjoying the rugby in two sport-obsessed countries.
Those same people are also likely to be mapping out both their own route around France for the World Cup in the autumn, and their country’s route to the final, which will be held at the Stade de France on October 28.
There, they will see the famous Webb Ellis Trophy – restored to its original pristine condition by Thomas Lyte – held aloft for the tenth time in the competition’s history.
Whether it’s club or country, though, one thing is certain. This promises to be quite some year.
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