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Explainer: How will the pool draw for the Rugby Champions Cup work?

Leinster, Munster and Ulster are set to learn the identity of their opponents in today’s draw.

Munster faced Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the last-ever Heineken Cup.
Munster faced Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the last-ever Heineken Cup.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE POOL DRAW for the 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup takes place today in Switzerland and with three Irish provinces involved, so we’re breaking down the process by which they will be allocated their pools.

First things first, the draw for the Champions Cup takes place immediately after the groups for the 2014/15 European Rugby Challenge Cup have been sorted out. The first draw starts at 12.00pm Irish time and you can watch both of them online.

5 pools, 4 teams in each

The 20-team Champions Cup will be made up of five pools, with four teams in each of those pools.

For the purposes of ensuring an even spread of quality throughout each pool [rather than a random draw that could have seen the four best teams in one group], the clubs are to be split into four ‘tiers’ of five teams before the actual draw takes place.

That means that each finalised pool will include one team from Tier 1, one team from Tier 2, one team from Tier 3, and one team from Tier 4.

How are the four tiers decided?

The four tiers are based on each team’s ranking position from their league, ensuring that those who finished highest in the three leagues will not all play against each other in the pool stages.

The Toulon team huddle before the game Toulon are a Tier 1 side. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

For the purposes of creating the tiers, the Aviva Premiership clubs have been ranked based on their league table finishing positions, ignoring what happened in the knock-out stages.

However, the Top 14 and Pro 12 clubs are ranked based on league performances and on the knock-out phases.

That means Castres – who lost to Toulon in the final of the Top 14 after finishing sixth in the league table – are the second-ranked French side.

It also means that Munster are ranked ahead of Ulster, despite both reaching the semi-finals of the Pro12. Munster’s league table finishing position [3rd] was better than Ulster’s [4th].

As such, the clubs have been ranked like this:

Rankings Source: Munster Rugby

Which clubs are in Tier 1?

Saracens, Toulon and Leinster are definitely in there as the top-ranking club from each league.

They will be joined by two of the second-ranking clubs, Northampton, Castres and Glasgow. Which two of those three sides make it into Tier 1 will be decided by a separate draw before the main pool draw.

Which clubs are in Tier 2?

One of NorthamptonCastres and Glasgow will be [whichever of them doesn't make it into Tier 1].

Munster, Leicester and Montpellier will definitely be there as the third-ranking teams from each league.

Munster team line up for a minutes silence Munster are in Tier 2. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Those four sides will be joined by one of the fourth-ranking clubs, UlsterRacing Métro and Harlequins. Which one of those three sides makes it into tier two will be decided by which of Northampton, Castres and Glasgow doesn’t make it into Tier 1.

Basically, the fourth-ranked club from the same league as whichever of Northampton, Castres and Glasgow doesn’t make it into Tier 1 will be part of Tier 2.

So, if Glasgow don’t make it into Tier 1, then Ulster will be a Tier 2 side.

If Northampton don’t make it into Tier 1, then Harlequins will be a Tier 2 side.

If Castres don’t make it into Tier 1, Racing Métro will be a Tier 2 side.

Which clubs are in Tier 3?

Two [the two who don't make it into Tier 2] of UlsterRacing Métro and Harlequins will.

The Ospreys, Bath and Clermont will be there as the fifth-ranking clubs from each league.

Which clubs are in Tier 4?

Valerio Bernabo wins the line-out ball Treviso are in Tier 4. Source: Huw Evans/INPHO

This tier is already fully decided - Scarlets, Sale, Toulouse, Wasps and Treviso.

The key principles in the draw

In order to avoid a build-up of clubs from the same league in one pool, there are a number of key principles as the draw unfolds.

  • Each of the five pools will have one club from each of the four tiers.
  • Each of the five pools will have at least one club from each of the three leagues.
  • There will be no more than two clubs from the same league in a pool.
  • No pool will contain two Pro12 clubs from the same country.
  • Clubs from the same league will be kept apart until the allocation of the Tier 4 clubs.

That final point means that in the Tier 4 allocation, Sale and Wasps will be drawn into pools which contain one other Premiership club, and Toulouse will be drawn into a pool which contains one other Top 14 side.

Examples of potential groups

As a Tier 1 side, Leinster could draw something along the lines of Castres, Bath and Scarlets.

As a Tier 2 side, Munster could draw a pool of NorthamptonClermont and Toulouse

As a potential Tier 3 side, Ulster could draw Saracens, Montpellier and Wasps.

It’s worth stressing that those are just some of the permutations in the draw, not pools that have an especially high probability of occurring.

Now that we all perfectly understand the tiers and the various possibilities, what pool would you like to see your province draw?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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