Peter O'Mahony sits next to the new Champions Cup and Challenge Cup trophies. James Crombie/INPHO
not the heineken cup

Here's all you need to know before rugby's new look Champions Cup kicks off

There haven’t been many changes after the kerfuffle of the ERC breakaway, but here’s how the new competition will play out.

EVEN IF YOU’RE interest in rugby is somewhere between ‘passing’ and ‘I turn my back when it’s on the tele’ you’re probably still aware that there has been all out (metaphorical, boardroom) warfare for control of European competitions.

To cut a long – exceedingly boring – story very short: the end is not nigh, our provinces do have a competition to play in.

So, although the Heineken Cup is now just a relic and you’ll now need to subscribe to a second sports channel to watch the games in your own home, very little about the competition has changed. Hell, they even count Heineken as their main sponsor…

It’s not exactly the same though, right?

Perhaps the most notable change to the competition itself is the number of clubs involved: 20, cut from 24 in the competition we knew so well over the past two decades.

That reduction means there will be one less pool and the remaining five look tougher prospects than usual.

So there are still pools, any change in how a club progresses to the knockout stage?

The qualification for the knock-out stages is unchanged bar the breakdown of winners v runners-up (due to there being one less group winner to take an automatic place in the quarter-finals).

As with the old Heineken Cup, teams must win their pool to automatically qualify for the last eight. The five Pool winners will be joined by the three best runners-up in the pools.

Here are the pools in question, with the three Irish provinces involved drawn in Pools 1, 2 and 3:


The quarter-finalists will still be drawn from seedings — 1st v 8th, 2 v 7th, 3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th — with the runners-up filling the bottom three seeds and the winners ranked; firstly by match points, secondly by tries scores and, if they still can’t be separated, then by aggregate points, fewest suspensions and finally by drawing lots.

What about Connacht?

You’ll find Ireland’s most exciting team in the Challenge Cup, they face La Rochelle at home next Saturday on the Sportsground.

The quarter-finalists for the Challenge Cup will be determined in the same way as the Champions Cup.

Pools EPCRugby / Twitter EPCRugby / Twitter / Twitter

So that’s all then?

Arguably the most significant change, aside from the distribution of money throughout the ERC’s replacement body, the EPRC, actually comes outside of the Champions Cup.

Qualification was a major bone of contention for stakeholders from England and France in the old ERC. So this season, Pro12 clubs who wish to qualify for the European Cup will have to finish the season in the top seven.

The top six in the Premiership and the Top 14 will also qualify automatically with the 20th Champions Cup place being awarded to (deep breath…) the team that comes through a four-team playoff series between the seventh-placed team from the Premiership and Top 14 and the eighth and ninth placed teams from the Pro12.

The 18 teams from the Pro12, Top 14 and Premiership who do not qualify for the Champions Cup will all go into the Challenge Cup

So, there you have it. Much has changed in the European landscape, but when we get down to the actual rough and tumble of match-days, it’s all pretty much the same for players and the supporters in the stand.

Just go out and enjoy it.

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