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How to avoid Toulon and all you need to know about the Champions Cup pool draw

Apart from Connacht being a tier one seed in the Challenge Cup, it’s all a bit complicated.

MOST OF US probably won’t care much about the Champions Cup until it gets going  after the World Cup is safely packed away. And yet, tomorrow’s draw for the pool stages will shape the forthcoming season for our provinces.

The Champions Cup being the Champions Cup however, nothing is straightforward. So before we get the names in the hat for a good old-fashioned pool draw tomorrow (1.15pm) the four tiers of seeds must be finalised.

European Rugby Champions Cup match balls Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

How is that done? Well The42 is glad we asked ourselves that question…


The Champions Cup is comprised of teams from three leagues, but has five pools to fill.

The EPCR has the word meritocracy tattooed in some unspeakable places, so the seeding all stems (don’t worry that metaphor is getting nipped in the bud right…. now) from who emerged victorious from the Pro12, Premiership and the Top14.

The champion trio of Glasgow, Saracens and Stade Francais can call themselves Tier 1 teams with confidence.

Al Kellock lifts the Guinness PRO12 Trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The remaining two teams in Tier 1 will be drawn from the runners-up in their respective leagues. So two of Munster, Bath and Clermont will be drawn out of limbo and placed in Tier 1.

Top seeds:  Saracens, Glasgow Warriors and Stade Francais  (+ two from Bath, Munster and Clermont Auvergne).


Don’t celebrate that top seeding just yet, because, despite Toulon’s back-to-back-to-back European titles, they will be a Tier 2 team next season.

Yes, they did finish top of the Top14. But with fourth place Stade winning the Bouclier de Brennus and Clermont remaining second as runners-up in the final, the whole league order is shunted so that the regular season table of 1. Toulon 2. Clermont 3.Toulouse 4. Stade Francais becomes 1. Stade Francais 2. Clermont 3. Toulon 4. Toulouse.

Mathieu Bastareaud celebrates Drew Mitchell's try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joining Toulon will be the other third-ranked teams from the leagues,  Northampton and Ospreys, and they will then be joined by the one team who was not drawn into Tier 1 from Bath, Clermont and Munster – for clarity’s sake, let’s call this club Team 1.5 for now.

That’s four. The fifth Tier 2 side will be the fourth-ranked team from the same league as Team 1.5 (can we call them Team 3.5 to stop me writing that sentence again?)

For example, if Munster miss out on top seeding then Ulster will be promoted into the second Tier. If Clermont end up a second seed, then Team 3.5 will be Toulouse. Bath? Leicester.

Second Seeds: Northampton Saints, Toulon, Ospreys (+ Team 1.5 and Team 3.5; the fourth-ranked team from Team 1.5′s league).


Nearly there.

In Tier three we’ll find teams that finished as the fourth and fifth-ranked teams in their respective leagues.

One of the fourth-ranked teams will become Team 3.5, remember, so we’re looking at two from Ulster, Leicester and Toulouse with Exeter Chiefs, Racing Metro and Leinster cemented as third seeds.

Tadhg Furlong, Jamie Heaslip and Luke Fitzgerald Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s getting quite straightforward now, right?

Third seeds: Exeter Chiefs, Racing Metro and Leinster (+ two from Ulster, Leicester and Toulouse)


The best of the rest. Tier 4 is where you’ll find the teams who finished sixth in their league last season along with Bordeaux Begles who come in through the hard road of the play-offs and Treviso who are in because they finished above Zebre in the Pro12.

Fourth Seeds: Wasps, Oyonnax, Scarlets, Treviso and Bordeaux Begles.

Nationality considerations

Each of the five pools must have at least one team from the three leagues. To ease the complication slightly, the organisers have already decided that fourth seeds Wasps, Oyonnax and Bordeaux Begles will feature in a pool with higher seeds from their own league. No pool will contain more than two teams from one league.

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Ashley Johnson Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Pro12 teams from the same country may not be drawn together.

Best-case scenario

The first thing to consider is, does anyone actually want to be a top seed? I mean, Toulon are there lurking among the second Tier. Let’s assume that we’d like to steer clear of the reigning champions and Paul O’Connell, shall we?

If Munster and Ulster were to be second seeds, a draw like this wouldn’t be so bad: Stade Francais, Exeter and Treviso.

Iain Henderson dejected after the game Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

While Leinster as third seeds could get away with: Stade Francais, Ospreys and Treviso.

Worst-case scenario

Munster (top seeds): Toulon, Leicester and Wasps.

Ulster and Leinster (third seeds): Clermont, Bath and Wasps.

What about Connacht, what about the Challenge Cup?

The Challenge Cup has to go through the same Tier setting as its bigger brother, but we do at least know that Connacht will be top seeds along with Sale Sharks and Montpellier.

Pat Lam arrives Source: Kevin Barnes/INPHO

The Premiership teams are the ones to avoid in the Challenge Cup (primarily because they take it more seriously than their French counterparts), but the Worcester Warriors are guaranteed to be in a pool with another Premiership club so perhaps they are the team to avoid as much as Harlequins, Gloucester and London Irish (ranked second, third and fourth respectively).

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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