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EPCR confirm new 24-team Champions Cup next season, and Connacht are in

All four Irish provinces have qualified for the tournament, which will involve two pools of 12 teams.

EPCR HAS CONFIRMED the new format for the enlarged 24-team Champions Cup in the 2020/21 season, with two pools of 12 teams leading on to knock-out stages that will include home-and-away quarter-finals decided on the aggregate score.

With the number of teams involved in the top-tier European competition growing from 20 for the season ahead, Connacht’s qualification alongside Munster, Leinster, and Ulster has now been officially confirmed.

The delays to the current 2019/20 season caused by Covid-19 have led to the new one-off format, which involves only eight match weekends rather than the previous nine.

johnny-sexton-with-james-lowe-in-support-is-tackled-by-vincent-koch Leinster in action against Saracens in last season's final. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

In the new format, the eight highest-ranked teams from the 2019/20 Guinness Pro14, Gallagher Premiership, and Top 14 will qualify. 

The 24 clubs will be divided into two pools of 12, with each club playing four games in the pool stage – two at home and two away.

The knock-out stages will consist of home-and-away quarter-finals decided on an aggregate score, before one-off semi-finals, then a one-off final in Marseille on 22 May 2021.

In order to draw the pools, clubs will be separated into four different ‘tiers’. Clubs from the same league in the same tier can not be drawn into the same pool.

The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1. The number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2.

The number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, while the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.

Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs drawn in the same pool, who are not in the same league competition, will play one another home and away during the pool stage.

Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs who have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will also play one another home and away.

The top four clubs in each pool will qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals, while the clubs ranked numbers 5 to 8 in both pools will drop down into the knock-out stages of the Challenge Cup.

In the Champions Cup quarter-finals, the top team in Pool A will play the fourth-placed team in Pool B and vice versa. The second-ranked team in Pool A will play the third-placed club in Pool B and vice versa.

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The clubs ranked numbers 1 and 2 from Pool A and Pool B will have an advantage in playing the second leg of their quarter-finals at home.

In the one-off semi-finals, the highest-ranked clubs from the pool stage will have home country advantage in a venue designated by EPCR.

The 2020/21 Champions Cup is due to begin on the weekend of 11/12/13 December.

“With an expanded knock-out stage and no repeats of domestic matches during the pool stage, this format creates brand new competitive opportunities for Europe’s elite clubs and their fans,” said EPCR chairman Simon Halliday.

“In this time of change, the Heineken Champions Cup with its global stars of the game, its passionate supporters and its unique match-day atmosphere undoubtedly remains the one to win.”

Meanwhile, 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 competition will involve four rounds of matches in that preliminary pool stage. Again, clubs from the same league competition will not play against one another.

The knock-out stages will involve of a round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals with the final in Marseille on 21 May 2021. The leading eight clubs from the preliminary pool will be joined by the eight teams dropping down from the Champions Cup in the round of 16.

Clubs qualified for the 2020/21 Champions Cup:

Pro14: Leinster, Edinburgh, Munster, Ulster, Scarlets, Glasgow, Connacht, Dragons (rankings TBC at the conclusion of the current season)

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

Premiership: TBC.

* If not already ranked number one, the winners of the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup will become the second-ranked club from its league. If not already qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup, the winners of the 2020 Challenge Cup will take the place of the eighth-ranked club from its league. Castres, who finished 9th in the Top 14, could still win the 2020 Challenge Cup.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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