18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
The draw will be put together in such a way that the number one seeds from the six different countries will not be pooled together. The draw will also be conducted so that no pool can contain two teams from the same country. Apart from these two conditions, the draw will be open. This is likely to be good news for the third-placed Irish team (which has been Ulster of late), as they will not necessarily now face the champions of either England or France.
The Board of ERC believe an Open Draw will generate enormous additional excitement and understanding amongst all of ERC's stakeholders, including the media and public.
After the initial 22 places have been filled under the agreed country-by-country allocation, the 23rd place will go to the most successful nation in next season's competition from England, France and Italy.
The 24th place will go to the winners of a play-off between the highest placed non-Heineken Cup qualifying team from Scotland, Ireland or Wales in the 2004/05 Celtic League and the third-placed side in the 2004/05 Italian Championship.