12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
But, for the first time, the next three best runners-up will join the race for the Amlin Challenge Cup crown.
With the carrot of more European competition dangling before them, and the possibility of potentially winning a coveted European title, there is bound to be an added edge to the final 24 pool fixtures.
ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath said: "We are used at this time of year to doing the maths to find out who might qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, but now the calculations will run even deeper with three more teams in the running to reach the last-eight of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
"There is already a big battle going on in the Amlin Challenge Cup for the teams to top the rools. It's Leeds Carnegie v Bourgoin in Pool 1, Connacht v Montpellier in Pool 2, Toulon v Saracens and London Wasps v Racing-Metro 92 in Pools 3 and 4 and Newcastle Falcons v Montauban in Pool 5.
"Whoever comes out on top in the Amlin Challenge Cup pools will have home advantage over their Heineken Cup rivals and the quality of those games promises to be of the very highest standard."
For more on the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, visit our European Rugby section.