The 2017/18 European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season launch for GUINNESS PRO14 teams was staged today at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
With a grand total of 28 European titles between this season’s competing clubs, provinces and regions and with a galaxy of world-class players from more than 20 nations set to light up pitches from Limerick to La Rochelle, the Champions Cup is the one to win for the continent’s top sides.
The enduring prestigious nature of Europe’s blue riband competition was one of the themes emerging from today’s 2017/18 season launch staged at the Convention Centre where Munster’s Peter O’Mahony and Rory Best of Ulster, who both had the honour of captaining the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand last summer, were among the star turns.
All seven PRO14 teams participating in the Champions Cup – the Scarlets, Munster, Leinster, the Ospreys, Ulster, Glasgow Warriors and Benetton Rugby – attended the event with leading players joined either by their directors of rugby or head coaches. Connacht represented the PRO14 outfits competing in the Challenge Cup.
EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday said: “The clubs, provinces and regions from what is now the GUINNESS PRO14 contributed so much to the success of the Champions Cup last season, which was a diverse and colourful celebration of European club rugby.
“More than one million fans passed through the turnstiles to enjoy the compelling action live, with telling contributions from teams across the three professional domestic leagues. There is plenty to look forward to from sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales this season, on the way to our finals in Bilbao next May.”
EPCR Director General Vincent Gaillard commented: “The format changes we have made to both of our major competitions, including meritocracy for teams qualifying from the PRO14, are really exciting developments for the European club game. It was great to see the high quality of rugby from the teams last season and expect more of the same outstanding rugby experiences on the road to our landmark finals weekend in Bilbao, for which ticket sales have started very strongly.”
Fans of European club rugby have given the groundbreaking decision to take the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals weekend to the 53,000-capacity San Mamés stadium in Bilbao their seal of approval as more than 37,000 tickets for the matches have been sold to date with the Champions Cup already accounting for 26,000 of the total.
The revised qualification format for next season’s Champions Cup was also confirmed with the tournament winners guaranteed a place if not already qualified through their league position. In the event that the Champions Cup winners have qualified, then the Challenge Cup victors will take the 20th place.
Seven teams from the PRO14 will qualify for the Champions Cup based on meritocracy. The three highest-ranked sides from each conference, and the fourth-ranked outfit with the most match points from both conferences will all be assured of spots in the 2018/19 competition.
The journey to ultimate European glory in Bilbao begins on Thursday, October 12 when Gloucester travel to Pau in the Challenge Cup (live on Sky Sports), with Cardiff Blues the first of the PRO14 teams in action against Lyon at Cardiff Arms Park the following evening.
The Champions Cup kicks off on Friday, October 13 with the clash of Ulster and Wasps at Kingspan Stadium )live on BT Sport).
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