The Heineken Cup is one of two annual rugby union competitions organised by European Rugby Cup involving leading club, regional and provincial teams from the six International Rugby Board countries in Europe whose national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Romania competed in the first year of the competition only. Teams that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup enter the second tier competition, the European Challenge Cup. The Heineken Cup is one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport and has been sponsored by Dutch brewing company Heineken International since the tournament began in 1995. The tournament was launched in the European summer of 1995 on the initiative of the then Five Nations committee to provide a new level of professional cross-border competition.
Each European country uses a different qualifying system, though in total, 24 teams contest the pool stages in six pools of four. According to performances, the number of clubs from each country changes. The tournament is held from October to May, with various stages scheduled around domestic club competitions.