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EPCR confirm two invitational teams for the 2023/24 Challenge Cup

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Thursday Jul 6, 2023

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) today confirmed that Georgia’s Black Lions and the Free State Cheetahs from South Africa will compete in next season’s Challenge Cup competition.

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The Black Lions will be the first Georgian club to compete in the Challenge Cup which is a significant step forward for the fast-improving rugby nation.

Facing stiff competition in Pool 3, the Black Lions will test themselves against two former winners in Gloucester Rugby and ASM Clermont Auvergne, as well as Castres Olympique and Scarlets, with their two home matches staged in Tbilisi.

Speaking about the Black Lions’ inclusion, Georgian Rugby Union President Ioseb Tkemaladze, said: “This is a hugely important moment for Georgian rugby and for the country. We’ve all been working hard for this – on the pitch and behind the scenes – for many years. We’re grateful to EPCR for taking the lead and showing the vision that is needed to further the global development and growth of the game. My personal gratitude to Dominic McKay and his amazing team for their hard work and support.”

South Africa’s Toyota Cheetahs join the competition once again next season, having finished fourth in Pool two last season before losing in the round of 16 to eventual champions Toulon.

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For next season the Cheetahs will enter the competition buoyed by victory in the prestigious Currie Cup final.

Having previously featured in the United Rugby Championship, the Cheetahs will look to use their Challenge Cup participation as an opportunity to prove their worth at the top level once again.

The Cheetahs will face Oyonnax Rugby, Section Paloise, Cell C Sharks and Zebre Parma in Pool 1, with Amsterdam in the Netherlands as their agreed ‘home’ base when pitted against European opponents.

When back in South Africa, their pool stage match against the Cell C Sharks will be played in either Bloemfontein or Durban, depending on the outcome of the current fixture scheduling process.

Talking about the two invitational sides EPCR Chairman, Dominic McKay, said: “The inclusion of Black Lion and the return of the Toyota Cheetahs reflect a continuing commitment to widen the scope of our tournaments and to showcase new, exciting talent for fans worldwide. The Toyota Cheetahs have already enhanced the EPCR Challenge Cup with their performance last season, and we are confident that the Georgians’ passion and physicality will further raise the intensity of the tournament.”

Clearly ecstatic about his team’s inclusion Toyota Cheetahs Chief Executive, Ross van Reenen, said: “We are pleased to have been invited to compete again in the EPCR Challenge Cup and after qualifying for the knockout stage last season, we believe we have the capacity to perform to a higher level in 2023/24. We are looking forward to making a big impression in Pool 1 of the tournament.”

All details for both the Challenge Cup and Heineken Champions Cup will be confirmed shortly, with the first round of both competitions taking place on the 8th and 9th of December.

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