PRO14 Rugby will introduce an exciting change to its Champions Cup qualification process that will see the seventh-ranked team decided by a play-off match that will form part of the GUINNESS PRO14 final series.
This fresh addition to the Championship has been warmly welcomed by the GUINNESS PRO14 teams and will see the two fourth-placed sides from each Conference face off in a winner-takes-all clash to qualify for the Champions Cup.
The fixture will take place over the first weekend of May and home advantage will be awarded to the team who has finished the regular season with the highest match points total. This move is designed to ensure competitive balance between both Conferences in order to award the final Champions Cup qualification place.
The first six places from the PRO14 will automatically be claimed by the teams who finish in the top three of each Conference. The South African teams remain ineligible to qualify for EPCR tournaments, so should a South African team finish in either the top three or in fourth place they will be replaced by the team that finished below them in that Conference.
PRO14 Rugby CEO Martin Anayi said: “By the time May rolls around our fans are going to be the big winners thanks to the enlarged GUINNESS PRO14 final series which will see six teams battle for the Championship title and another two going at it to qualify for the Champions Cup. That’s double the number of teams who now have something to play for after the regular season ends which is a great result for the teams, their fans and the tournament.
“We are committed to raising the standards of our Championship and the introduction of the Champions Cup play-off brings a dynamic element to European qualification. After careful consultation with our clubs, provinces and regions, we strongly believe that this is best solution for the GUINNESS PRO14.
“The new Championship format is off to a fantastic start and it’s so important to us that no matter which Conference a team is in, eligible teams have an equal opportunity to qualify for the Champions Cup. By pitting the two fourth-placed teams against each other we’re creating a fair fight and giving fans a cup final-style occasion that they can relish.”
News of the play-off game has been well received from coaches within the PRO14, with Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman saying: “Having a play-off game for the final Champions Cup spot is a really exciting new element for the PRO14. There will be teams battling to reach the top three or finish in a play-off place and that means that the competition will go right down to the wire for everyone.
“Every team has to finish as strongly as possible and if we can improve as the season progresses we would hope to be there or thereabouts to take advantage of the opportunity.
“The play-off fixture itself will be a massive occasion for players to test themselves in a cup final atmosphere, it will get supporters pumped up and it’s a fantastic stage for a team to prove that they deserve to be playing in the Champions Cup.”
Benetton Rugby head coach Kieran Crowley added: “This addition to the PRO14 brings an objective to those teams that are in that position and some real meaning to a ‘play-off’ game with a fantastic reward to compete for. If we find ourselves in that position we will certainly be very excited about it and be determined to achieve a positive result and qualify for the Champions Cup on merit.”