At least a hell of a lot simpler than it has been for the last two years.
Some months ago TTT had a stab at explaining the mess that is European club rugby. It wasn’t easy.
But finally, after debating the subject back and forth since, the various parties (and there are a lot of them) have agreed on the format of European rugby’s new knock-out tournament. Under the guise of ‘European Professional Club Rugby’, the stakeholders, the unions of the six represented nations and the three club rugby governing bodies (Premiership Rugby, Ligue Nationale de Rugby and Regional Rugby Wales) have clubbed together to unveil the new versions of the Heineken and Amlin Cups – the somewhat shitly-named European Rugby Champions Cup and its [also shitly-named] tier two counterpart, the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
So how will they work?
European Rugby Champions Cup
20 teams will qualify for the top-flight competition, 19 of which will automatically get their spot according to the position they finish in their domestic league
– The top six teams will qualify from the 6 teams will qualify from the English Premiership.
– The top six will qualify from the Top 14.
– The top seven will quality from the Rabo Pro 12 – with at least one side from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales (the top team from each country and the best placed three teams not already qualified).
– And the 20th spot will be given to the winner of a play-off between the seventh-placed English and French sides.
The teams will be split into five pools, the winner of each pool progressing to the knock-out stages along with the three best second placed sides.
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Also made up of 20 teams, the sides that don’t qualify for the Champions Cup will slot into the second tier of the competition.
The remaining sides in the Premiership, Top14 and Rabo Pro 12 will therefore make up 18 of the spots, while two additional sides from Italy’s domestic league, the National Championship of Excellence – a much better named competition – or clubs from other European rugby nations through another qualification competition.
The straight-forward nature of the whole thing makes you wonder why ‘the powers’ took so long in agreeing things in the first place. Now that it’s sorted though the broadcasters have been terribly amenable in agreeing how they’ll cover the competitions. Rather amicably BT and Sky have actually agreed to share the coverage of both competitions, with the pool matches, quarter-finals, and semi-finals split equally and both broadcasting the final. BT have coughed up a bit more money though so will get first choice of English Premiership club matches in the Champions Cup, while Sky will get first pick in the Challenge Cup.
So there you have it.