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Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cups undergo radical format change

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Jun 14, 2023

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has confirmed that the 2023/24 season will see a restructure to the tournament format.

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Reverting to a more traditional pool system, the competition will comprise of four pools of six teams. This will see eight teams from the three competing leagues (United Rugby Championship, Top 14 and English Premiership) guaranteed a place in the competition.

Once the pools are, there will be no intra-league games, i.e. teams from the URC will not face each other. Clubs who are in the same pool but from the same league will play each other once, either home or away, depending on the draw.

Determining the fixture list will be an algorithm which takes into account the pool draw, domestic calendar, local calendar restrictions and broadcaster requirements.

The tournament will be played over eight weekends, with each side playing four pool games before sixteen teams progress to the knockout rounds.

For the play-offs, the top four sides from each pool will progress, whilst the 5th place team in each pool will play in the EPCR Challenge Cup knock-out stage.

Based on the finishing positions of the recently completed seasons, Saracens and Munster hold the top qualifying spots from the Premiership and URC, respectively.

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The final top sees will be taken by either Leinster or Toulouse depending on how the French Top 14 final finishes. This is due to the fact that La Rochelle won the Heineken Champions Cup this season and are thus guaranteed a top seeding.

Below the Champions Cup, the EPCR Challenge Cup will mirror the eight-game schedule with four pool rounds and four knock-out rounds.

The Challenge Cup will feature 18 clubs, with six from the URC, six from the Top 14, two from the Premiership and two invitational clubs.

In a nod towards growing the game, the two invitational clubs will be given the opportunity to compete with some of the biggest clubs in the European and South African games.

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The play-offs will see twelve clubs progress, and they will be joined by the four clubs who drop down from the Champions Cup.

Speaking on the changes, EPCR Chairman Dominic McKay said: “Our focus has always been to ensure that everyone can easily understand, engage with and follow our tournaments, and also to ensure we have a structure that creates real sporting jeopardy in as many matches as possible.

“We reached this conclusion following a thorough process during which we engaged with stakeholders in a meaningful way – not just our Leagues and unions, but also with our broadcasters, partners and around 1,000 rugby enthusiasts in order to canvass their views,” McKay concluded.

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