Next season’s Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup tournaments will see a number of format and qualification changes that are aimed at enhancing the profile and stature of European club rugby’s two showpiece competitions.
The changes follow the completion of a comprehensive Strategic Review process which included ERC’s stakeholder Unions, Leagues, club bodies and clubs and was aimed at mapping out the future development of European club rugby.
Among the results of the process was a renewed commitment from all ERC’s constituent bodies to the development of the European Challenge Cup tournament as an essential element of European rugby, delivering competitive and attractive matches for players, clubs, supporters and commercial partners.
The changes include:
* Three Heineken Cup teams to qualify for the knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup
* Revised ERC European Ranking from the European Challenge Cup
* Heineken Cup qualification changes
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP –
The knock-out stages of future European Challenge Cup tournaments will now include three teams that will qualify through the Heineken Cup.
The introduction of three teams who have finished as pool runners-up in that season’s Heineken Cup (the third, fourth and fifth-ranked Heineken Cup pool runners-up), to meet the five European Challenge Cup pool winners, will enhance both the quality and profile of the European Challenge Cup knock-out matches.
The top four European Challenge Cup pool winners will enjoy home advantage in the quarter-finals with the top pool winner playing the fifth, while the other three pool winners will welcome the Heineken Cup sides.
1 ECC 1 (Top ranked ECC pool winner)
2 ECC 2 (Second ranked ECC pool winner)
3 ECC 3 (Third ranked ECC pool winner)
4 ECC 4 (Fourth ranked ECC pool winner)
5 Heineken Cup 1
6 Heineken Cup 2
7 Heineken Cup 3
8 ECC 5 (Fifth-ranked ECC pool winner)
1 (ECC 1) v 8 (ECC 5)
2 (ECC 2) v 7 (Heineken Cup 3)
3 (ECC 3) v 6 (Heineken Cup 2)
4 (ECC 4) v 5 (Heineken Cup 1)
European Challenge Cup Semi-final Pairings:
Winner of ECC 1 v ECC 5 quarter-final v winner of first quarter-final drawn
Winner of second quarter-final drawn v winner of third quarter-final drawn
European Challenge Cup teams will have home advantage, otherwise home advantage will be decided by a draw.
Meanwhile, the ERC European Ranking Points available for teams in European Challenge Cup knock-out stages have also been revised with the maximum points now available for the winner increased from five points to six.
HEINEKEN CUP QUALIFICATION –
Another significant boost for the tournament sees the winner of the European Challenge Cup, who will continue to qualify for the following season’s Heineken Cup, also earn an additional Heineken Cup spot for the country of the winner.
From the 2009/10 season, both the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup winners will qualify automatically for the following season’s Heineken Cup and will each earn an extra Heineken Cup spot for their countries – over and above their guaranteed allocations.
However, England and France, who have six automatic places, will only be allowed a maximum of seven teams, so if either country wins both the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup the second additional spot will pass on to the club with the highest ERC European Ranking who has not already qualified from any of the other five nations.
The changes mean that the Italian/Celtic League 24th place play-off is no longer required and the extra place earned by England this year, which was available to the most successful nation from England, France or Italy, is also no longer applicable.
Teams will continue to qualify through their domestic tournaments with each nation having the following number of automatic places:
England and France – 6 each
Wales and Ireland – 3 each
Scotland and Italy – 2 each
The 23rd and 24th Heineken Cup places will go to the nation(s) of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup winners, with England and France capped on a maximum of seven teams each.