The EPCR Board has revealed that after a unanimously vote, the new Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournament formats will be introduced for the 2020/21 season.
The decision to alter the formats for next season on an exceptional basis has been made against the backdrop of the COVID-19 public health crisis and its ongoing impact on the professional club game in Europe.
The 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup will be competed for by 24 clubs with the eight highest-ranked representatives from the Gallagher Premiership, the Guinness PRO14 and the TOP 14 securing their places.
The clubs will be divided into two pools of 12 by means of a draw and the tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage followed by a knockout stage consisting of home and away quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final in Marseille on 22 May 2021.
For the purposes of the pool draw, the clubs will be separated into tiers, and clubs from the same league in the same tier will not be drawn into the same pool. The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2, the number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, and the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.
The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.
The four highest-ranked clubs in each pool will qualify for the quarter-finals, and the clubs ranked numbers 5 to 8 in each pool will compete in the knockout stage of the Challenge Cup.
“With an expanded knockout stage and no repeats of domestic matches during the pool stage, this format creates brand new competitive opportunities for Europe’s elite clubs and their fans,” said EPCR Chairman, Simon Halliday. “In this time of change, the Heineken Champions Cup with its global stars of the game, its passionate supporters and its unique match-day atmosphere undoubtedly remains The One to Win.”
The 2020/21 Challenge Cup will start with 14 clubs – six from the TOP 14, four from the Premiership and four from the PRO14 – in a single pool. The tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the preliminary stage and again, clubs from the same league will not play against one another.
With no requirement for a pool draw on this occasion, the 2020/21 Challenge Cup fixtures will be available to clubs and fans shortly following the conclusion of the current season.
The tournament knockout stage will consist of a round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals with the final in Marseille on 21 May 2021. The leading eight clubs, as well as eight representatives from the Heineken Champions Cup, will qualify for the round of 16.
QUALIFIED CLUBS FOR 2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
PRO14: Leinster Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby, Munster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors, Connacht Rugby, Dragons (Rankings TBC at conclusion of current season)
TOP 14: Bordeaux-Bègles, Lyon, Racing 92, RC Toulon, La Rochelle, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse, *Montpellier or Castres Olympique
QUALIFIED CLUBS FOR 2020/21 CHALLENGE CUP
PRO14: Benetton Rugby, Cardiff Blues, Zebre Rugby Club, Ospreys
TOP 14: Bayonne, Castres Olympique, Brive, Pau, Agen, Stade Français Paris
Premiership: Newcastle Falcons (A further 3 clubs TBC at conclusion of current season)
*NB If not already ranked number one, the winners of the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup will become the second-ranked club from its league. If not already qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup, the winners of the 2020 Challenge Cup will take the place of the eighth-ranked club from its league.
Start of 2020/21 season: weekend of 11/12/13 December