Revealed: Radical new format for 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup

Next season will see two 12-team sections and two-legged knockout games, with revamped Challenge Cup and finals weekend in Marseille

Saracens celebrate after their victory in the 2019 Heinekn Champions Cup final at St James' Park in Newcastle last May. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Saracens celebrate after their victory in the 2019 Heinekn Champions Cup final at St James' Park in Newcastle last May. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

European rugby chiefs have come up with a radical new format for the continent’s premier club competition next season with the initial first-round stage to be made up of two 12-team sections.

The Heineken Champions Cup, which will involve both Scottish teams Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, will be bumped up from 20 to 24 teams.

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The 2020/21 staging of the tournament will start on the weekend of 11/12/13 December and an EPCR statement said: “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 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.

The four highest-ranked clubs in each 12-team pool will qualify for the quarter-finals, and the clubs ranked fifth to eighth in each pool will compete in the knockout stage of the Challenge Cup.

The current delayed Champions and Challenge Cups are set to resume later this month, with final venue or venues to be confirmed. Edinburgh are due to play Bordeaux-Begles in France on Saturday 19 September in the second-tier competition’s last eight.

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 the eight dropping from the Heineken Champions Cup, will qualify for the round of 16.

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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)

French Top 14: Bordeaux-Bègles, Lyon, Racing 92, RC Toulon, La Rochelle, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse, *Montpellier or Castres Olympique

English Premiership: TBC

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

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Premiership: Newcastle Falcons (A further 3 clubs TBC at conclusion of current season)

For more information and competition laws go to www.epcrugby.com

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