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Italian clubs will no longer get an automatic place in the Champions Cup

EPCR has confirmed some encouraging changes to the qualification format.

EPCR HAS ANNOUNCED changes to the Champions Cup qualification format from next season onwards which mean an Italian club will no longer get an automatic place in Europe’s top-tier club competition.

From the 2017/18 season, the top seven sides in the Guinness Pro12 will go straight into the Champions Cup for the following season, regardless of the nation they represent.

Brad Barritt celebrates with the trophy Saracens defended their Champions Cup title this season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The current format has meant that at least one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales has been included in the seven qualifiers from the Pro12.

For example, this season saw 10th-placed Benetton Treviso qualify into the Champions Cup for next season by virtue of having finished higher up the Pro12 table than rock-bottom Italian rivals Zebre, but that situation will no longer apply.

Zebre were part of this season’s Champions Cup, but lost all six of their pool games and conceded 49 tries, while scoring only 11 themselves.

EPCR has also confirmed that the qualification process for the Aviva Premiership and the TOP 14, which sees the six highest-ranked clubs secure places in the Champions Cup, will remain in place.

Furthermore, the Challenge Cup has been strengthened as a competition by EPCR’s announcement that the winner will automatically take the 20th spot in the Champions Cup the following season.

If the Challenge Cup winner is already qualified through their league, then the losing finalist will take the 20th place in the Champions Cup.

“These changes are designed to strengthen both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup,” said EPCR Director General, Vincent Gaillard.

Marcello Violi dejected after conceding a try Zebre were very poor in the Champions Cup this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The new qualification format will contribute further to the advances that we have made in attendances, TV audiences and expansion to new territories as we continue to create outstanding rugby experiences for participating clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters and importantly, our fans.”

Meanwhile, Pro12 CEO Martin Anayi welcomed the changes:

“Everyone has seen the positive impact that meritocracy has had on the Guinness PRO12 since it was introduced in the 2014/15 season. Competition has never been greater among our clubs and these latest changes will deliver true meritocracy to our Championship,” he said.

“In this past season, we have been greatly encouraged by the performances of our teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup and this development will prime them to make a greater impact in the future.”

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Murray Kinsella

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