Commenting on the changes, ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath said: "After considering all points of view, the board decided to move the opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup from September to October and rounds three and four to December. The Pool stages will once again be completed in January, but we have moved the quarter-finals so that the whole of the knock-out phase will now be completed after the Six Nations Championship".
"We also decided to build in a one week gap before and after internationals in consideration of the demands on players and their preparations for international matches."
ERC Chairman, Jean-Pierre Lux said, "By separating the Pool stages from the knock-out phase it also means we can now focus on two distinct phases of the tournament and develop momentum for each phase. It also means more clubs will be involved for a longer period in the tournament, therefore maintaining a wider interest in the competition.
"We did consider a six week block for the Pool stages, as well as a proposal for two blocks of three matches. In the end, three groups of two games received more support. ERC feels that by having blocks of two matches of the tournament allows the clubs to promote key home and away fixtures in three significant rugby months."
The format of the PARKER PEN SHIELD for next season was also discussed and the board resolved to develop the concept of a knock-out format for the competition for next season. There will be a special meeting of the ERC rugby sub-committee in the near future to further discuss the matter and table plans. In the meantime, the clubs, Unions, sponsors and broadcasters will continue to be consulted.
HEINEKEN CUP 2002/2003.
Round 1: 11/12/13 October.
Quarter-Finals: 11/12/13 April.Semi-Finals: 26/27 April>
HEINEKEN CUP FINAL: 24 May.