Connacht confirmed for next season's expanded Champions Cup
The men from the West will take part in an expanded 24-team competition next season.
Connacht have received the news they and their supporters would have been hoping for when the Covid-19 pandemic forced a pause in the 2019/20 season.
They are currently fourth place in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 and that is enough to qualify automatically for next season's Champions Cup competition. Vincent Gaillard, director general of the European Professional Club Rugby, has confirmed as much to French outlet Le Figaro.
In response from a demand by the PRO14, English Premiership and French Top 14, the 2020/21 Champions Cup will be expanded to 24 teams (up from the usual 20). That means eight teams from the PRO14 will qualify and, with places in next season's tournament based on table standings after 13 rounds of the season, that means Connacht are going to the big show.
"The Champions Cup will be contested with 24 teams, that's for sure," Gaillard told Le Figaro.
"However, the format is not yet decided. Regarding the number of groups, there is still a bit of work to do. We won't announce anything for at least two weeks."
"This 24-team formula will only be valid for one season," he added. "It's about adapting to the crisis. On the other hand, we will test elements of this format that could last in the future. Like, for example, avoiding clashes within the same league in the group stage or even reducing the group phase in favour of an extended knock-out phase with round-robin quarter-finals. Why not? But coming back to 20 teams."
Gaillard has yet to confirm where the 2019/20 Champions Cup final will be but he says it will definitely not be in Marseille's Velodrome, even if Toulon reach the final. The Aviva Stadium looks to be a frontrunner, but Gaillard was non-committal on that front.
He did say that Leinster, and Exeter, would get home country semi-finals if they won their respective last eight clashes with Saracens and Northampton.