Here's what the Champions Cup 2020/21 changes mean for your province
Changes are afoot, and in a big way.
Next season's Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions have been rejigged to accommodate more teams and with an eye at more high profile matches that should attract big TV and [hopefully] match-day audiences.
The EPCR, this morning, released the format and fixture plans for an expanded Champions Cup - up from 20 to 24 teams - next season. Here are the main bullet points:
- 24 teams involved (eight teams apiece from Guinness PRO14, Premiership & Top 14)
- Split between two pools of 12 teams each
- Eight teams from each league will be ranked into four tiers (T1, T2, T3 & T4)
- Top 4 from each pool go into home & away quarter finals
- Semi-finals to be home & away too
- All teams that don't make Champions Cup last eight drop into Challenge Cup
- Final (single game decider) to be in Marseille in May 2021
So, what does that mean for your favourite province?
There will still be changes to the final tiers due to the fact that the PRO14 and Premiership's 2019/20 seasons are still playing out. France's Top 14 decided to scrap their domestic season, earlier this year, after the Covid-19 pandemic caused massive delays, but their top 8 is pretty much decided.
Castres are still in the 2019/20 Challenge Cup quarter finals and could yet bump out Montpellier if they lift that trophy in October. As it stands - noting that there is subject to change - here are the tiers:
- TIER 1: Leinster, Exeter; Sale, Edinburgh Bordeaux; Lyon
- TIER 2: Munster, Ulster, Bristol, Wasps, Racing 92, Toulon
- TIER 3: Bath, Northampton Saints, Scarlets, Glasgow, Clermont, La Rochelle
- TIER 4: Connacht, Harlequins; Gloucester, Dragons, Toulouse, Montpellier OR Castres
Now, this is where this weekend's Guinness PRO14 semi-finals come into play...
Leinster and Edinburgh - as conference winners - are provisionally in Tier 1 (above) but that all changes if Munster and Ulster win their respective semis on Friday and Saturday.
In effect, whoever makes it to the PRO14 final, on September 12, becomes the Tier 1 sides for next season's Champions Cup. Past deeds in Europe are not counting towards the 2020/21 competition.
At present, the only Irish province that have been confirmed in a tier are Connacht. Andy Friend's side go into Tier 4 and they will face either Bordeaux or Lyon in the pool stages.
Everything else, until the Premiership and PRO14 are concluded, is up in the air.