Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs
A power ranking of Europe's top 10 clubs cannot be based on a definitive set of criteria, but instead must be a reflection of a team's success, its history, fan base and spending power.
There is no salary cap in France, which gives the Top 14 clubs far more clout with their cheque book, though this cannot always buy success.
Not all clubs have wealthy benefactors and instead are based on sound business practice, plus the good will and hard work of dedicated volunteers down the years.
Have the top clubs changed in recent years based purely on the millions of owners? Perhaps, but the game is probably better for it, so no complaints there.
We look at the current top 10 power clubs across Europe, and as it is not a definitive list, please tell us what you think in the comments below—especially as there is a distinct lack of Welsh and Scottish representatives.
West country stalwarts Gloucester cannot boast too much success in recent years but make the list due to their long tradition of producing great players, their following and the team's standing in the community.
Gloucester do not have the deepest pockets or the biggest trophy cabinet, but there is a passion and atmosphere at Kingsholm that still allows them to attract big names to go with famous former players such as Phil Blakeway, Mike Teague, Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman.
The Cherry and Whites may not have got their season off to the best start with a surprise loss at home to Sale, but they have a young squad with more than enough talent to carry the club forward.
'"Shed heads," the future looks bright—and you have the honour of hosting World Cup games in a couple of years time.
9. Racing Metro 92
The glamour club of French rugby is a 2001 amalgamation of the famous Racing Club de France and US Metro, and are back amongst the big boys thanks to the spending power of owner Jacky Lorenzetti.
Racing certainly were the most established of the two clubs, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s played with a zest and flair that matched Paris' reputation for style and fashion.
Indeed, a number of former players used their profile to create the now famous Eden Park fashion label, capitalising on stunts such as wearing pink bow ties during the game and having a glass of champagne on the halfway line before kickoff.
Franck Mesnel, Jean-Baptiste Lafond, Denis Charvet, we salute you.
Nowadays, the Parisians have a star-studded team packed with recent signings such as Jonathan Sexton, Jamie Roberts, Juan Martin Hernandez and Dan Lydiate that promise a new era of success for the club.
As well as having a long and proud tradition associated with their fez-wearing fans, North London club Saracens have earned themselves a reputation as the most innovative club around.
Chairman Nigel Wray and chief executive Edward Griffiths have slowly developed Saracens from a club that would always have its best players poached to a modern giant now doing the poaching.
The fezzes are still there but are now worn proudly at their new ground Allianz Park, which has a synthetic pitch in keeping with Sarries' trend setting.
With the summer arrival of juggernaut Billy Vunipola, Saracens are many observers' favourites to lift the English title this season.
Northampton may be the second biggest club in the Midlands of England, but they are still enough of a power to make this list.
They are also enough of a power to attract arguably the hottest property in Northern Hemisphere rugby right now, Wales and Lions star George North.
The Saints have not quite lived up to their billing in recent years in terms of closing out finals, but they are more often than not in the mix.
Joining North at Franklin's Gardens this season is fellow Lions star and England prop Alex Corbisiero. The Saints looked very impressive in their season opener, and this campaign could well be the one in which they truly match their potential.
Keep an eye also on new arrival Kahn Fotuali'i, the Samoan scrum-half could prove to be the signing of the season.
6. ASM Clermont Auvergne
In their canary yellow strip, Clermont are easily recognisable. Les Jaunards were also renowned for always being the bridesmaids and never the bride as 10 appearances in the French domestic championship final ended in failure.
Respected for their entertaining style of play but less so for their ability to close out key games—they lost three Top 4 finals on the bounce from 2007 to 2009.
Until 2011 that is, when Vern Cotter's side finally booted the monkey on their backs into touch with a historic 19-6 victory over Perpignan.
Playing in a stadium built by the Michelin Tires dynasty, Clermont have a hugely passionate following and this year look set to challenge for both domestic and European honours under their inspirational skipper Aurelien Rougerie.
Although Leinster rugby club has been going for well over 100 years, its modern genesis as one of the greats of Europe started only in the mid-1990s.
The club of Ireland star Brian O'Driscoll spent the first decade on the fringes of success, but blasted their way onto the top table with three Heineken Cup triumphs between 2009 and 2011.
It was a remarkable run of success in Europe that rivalled the equally thrilling Heineken Cup triumphs of Irish rival Leinster.
O'Driscoll is set to retire at the end of this season, and Leinster's challenge will be to manage that loss. It's only one player, but arguably the player of his generation.
As with their many clashes over the years, there was little to separate Munster and Leinster in terms of ranking on this list.
But Munster get the nod on account of being the first in Ireland to conquer Europe, and because of a certain victory over the touring All Blacks in 1978.
Allied to this great day are Heineken Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2008 as the Red Army saw off all comers with their relentless driving game, led by the great Paul O'Donnell up front and the pinpoint boot of Ronan O'Gara.
You know when Munster are in town because it turns into a sea of red—and their singing's not bad either.
Reigning Premiership champions Leicester have set the standard for English rugby for so long now it is hard to remember when they were not either winning the domestic league or at least playing in the playoff final.
The Tigers have a remarkable record of success that includes seven Premiership titles since 2000 and back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2002, when the hand of a certain Neil Back became renowned.
Even more remarkable is their achievement of reaching the last nine Premiership finals.
There is a Leicester way that allows them to integrate new players seamlessly and move from one generation to another with equal success.
The likes of Dean Richards, Martin Johnson, Back and Lewis Moody delivered unrivalled English success for the Tigers that continues to this day.
There was a period in European rugby when it seemed all Toulouse had to do was turn up to collect the win. The aristocrats of French rugby were a force to behold.
From about 2002 to 2005 they were so powerful and dominant that they often appeared to be coasting in games until deciding to up their gear to see them to victory, all masterminded by outstanding coach Guy Noves.
Only an opportune try from Wasps scrum-half Rob Howley denied them a hat-trick of consecutive Heineken Cup triumphs in this period, and they still hold the record of four European titles, their last coming in 2010.
Domestic glory has never been far away either, and they have won the Top 14 three times since 2008, though their dominance has recently been challenged by the likes of Toulon and Clermont.
Toulon take top spot on our ranking primarily because their purchase power, combined with their sheer determination, has transformed the club in Europe and France—well, almost.
Thanks to the comic book millions of owner Mourad Boudjellal, a squad of star imports and a following as passionate as any in rugby, Toulon won last season's Heineken Cup before surprisingly losing to Castres in the Top 14 final a week later.
The likes of celebrity imports Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha and Matt Giteau blended superbly with French stars such as Maxime Mermoz and Sebastien Bruno to finally bring success to the Mediterranean port city.
And such is the ambition and passion of Boudjellal, it looks likely Toulon will remain a force for years to come.
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