The feeling of lifting the Heineken Cup with Bath Rugby in 1998 is one ingrained in the memory of former scrum-half Andy Nicol.
The ex-Scotland international captained the English side to what remains their only triumph in EPCR’s elite competition, beating CA Brive 19-18 in dramatic fashion at Stade Lescure in Bordeaux.
Though Nicol needs little reminding of the glory of that day, the memories are set to come flooding back on Saturday as he joins his old teammates in celebration of their title win ahead of Bath’s EPCR Challenge Cup clash with RC Toulon.
The likes of Adebayo Adedayo, Phil de Glanville, Jeremy Guscott, David Hilton, Dan Lyle, Frederico Mendez, Matt Perry, Eric Peters, Mark Regan, Nathan Thomas and Richard Webster will be in attendance at The Recreation Ground.
“It was brilliant,” recalled Nicol, who made 21 Heineken Cup appearances during his career. “I can remember so much of it like it was yesterday and not 25 years ago.
“It just brings back so many happy memories and I can’t wait to get back to The Rec on Saturday and see so many of the squad.
“It will be a great day for Bath Rugby, and I’m delighted the club are recognizing the moment as they are.”
The 1998 showpiece game was a true classic, with Jon Callard providing all 19 of Bath’s points and Brive in contention right up until the final whistle thanks to five Christophe Lamaison penalties and an Alain Penaud drop-goal.
And the French club almost snatched victory when Lisandro Arbizu lined up a last-gasp drop-goal, though his effort drifted agonizingly wide.
Nicol was more grateful than anyone to see Arbizu miss the target, with his error handing Brive the chance to kick at the posts.
“The brightest moment followed the darkest moment,” he recalled. “The brightest moment was when the final whistle went after their Argentinian missed a drop-goal after I had dropped the ball right in front of the posts.
“I was so humbled to be the Bath captain following in the footsteps of Phil de Glanville, Andy Robinson, John Hall, Stuart Barnes, Richard Hill, John Palmer, Roger Spurrell. The European Cup became the holy grail for us.”
Nicol says the Heineken Cup handed Bath the chance to showcase their quality on the continental stage, and that their victory underlined their status as Europe’s leading side.
“Bath had dominated English club rugby in the amateur era, and we always thought we were the best team in Europe but we couldn’t prove it until the European Cup came along,” he explained.
“When we got to the final against Brive, this was it; it was our chance to prove Bath were the best team in Europe once and for all.
“We dug in hugely to get into the lead, and I genuinely think about dropping the ball a lot as I thought I’d lost us the European Cup when he went for the drop kick.
“That euphoria at the final whistle was just so special and magic.”
The ecstasy of securing the prestigious trophy was shared among players and fans, and Nicol recalled the celebrations that went long into the night in France.
“The changing room celebrations were brilliant; it was a sense of job done,” he said. “We wanted a bit of food afterwards and we took the Heineken Cup into McDonalds in Bordeaux and got about 30 Big Macs.
“It was full of Bath and Brive fans who were dropping their Big Macs when we walked in. Then we went to a bar with a private room which was so special as it was just the playing squad, coaching team and the physios; it was just the inner sanctum.
“It was quiet contemplation and a sense of job done. We were there for about half an hour before wives, girlfriends and fans were let in and it was a really special half an hour.
“Then a couple of guys went head-to-head drinking, and it ended up what you’d think it would!”
Guess who’s back…
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) January 9, 2023
Saturday’s reunion will be another special moment for Nicol and his former teammates, with their experiences almost 25 years ago creating a bond for life.
“It’s a true sense of friendship and it just proves the connection you have when you play is deep rooted,” he said.
“I think we’ll have 17 from the squad at The Rec and there’s a WhatsApp group where everyone is already taking the mickey out of everyone already.
“It’s just going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see everyone. The win affected so many people in Bath.”
This season, Bath’s focus is on the EPCR Challenge Cup and Saturday’s game against heavyweights Toulon is a crucial one as they seek a first win in Pool A – catch the action live on ViaPlay-Premier Sports and FloRugby.