The format for the tournament formally knows as the Parker Pen Shield has changed. The 32 teams taking part next season will all participate in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup.
The Parker Pen Challenge Cup 2002 / 2003 tournament will be run on a knock-out basis – with each of the 32 competing teams from eight nations assured of a minimum of four matches.
Round 1 will consist of the 16 seeded teams – six from England, six from France, two from Wales and one each from Scotland and Ireland – being drawn against the 16 unseeded teams. They will play each other home and away on the weekends of 11/12/13 October (Leg One unseeded teams at home) and 18/19/20 October (Leg Two seeded teams at home). No two teams from any one country will be drawn together.
The 16 aggregate winners will go forward to Round 2 of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup and play home and away. The 16 unsuccessful teams will combine in a separate competition run on identical lines, the Parker Pen Shield. All these matches will be played on the weekends of 6/7/8 and 13/14/15 December, with a draw taking place to determine the order of home advantage.
The last eight and then the last four in each competition will continue on the home and away format in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, with a draw taking place to determine the order of home advantage. The two finals will be staged on the last weekend in May as straight winner-takes-all contests at neutral venues. The winner of Parker Pen Challenge Cup will automatically qualify for the Heineken Cup 2003 / 2004 tournament.
The seeded teams are:
ENGLAND: Bath Rugby, Leeds Tykes, London Wasps, NEC Harlequins, Newcastle Falcons, Saracens.
FRANCE: Bordeaux-Begles, Castres Olympique, Colomiers, Montauban, RC Narbonne, Stade Francais.
WALES: Bridgend, Pontypridd.
SCOTLAND: Scottish Borders.
The unseeded teams are:
FRANCE: Grenoble, Mont de Marsan, Pau.
WALES: Caerphilly, Ebbw Vale.
ITALY: GR.A.N. Rugby Parma, Parma Rugby, Petrarca Padova, Pol Rugby LAquila, Rugby Roma, Rugby Rovigo, Rugby Silea, Rugby Treviso.
SPAIN: La Moraleja Alcobendas, Madrid 2012.
ROMANIA: Dinamo Bucuresti