EPCR Challenge Cup History
The European Rugby Challenge Cup dates back to 1996, one year after the formation of the Heineken Cup. Initially, it was known as the European Conference and 24 teams from England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy and Romania competed during its inaugural year. Over the next two decades, the tournament underwent numerous name changes, including stints as the European Shield and Parker Pen Shield. Finally, in 2014, the English and French teams withdrew and decided to form the Challenge Cup.
Today, 18 teams contest for the EPCR Challenge Cup. Of these, 17 teams automatically qualify from Europe’s top three professional leagues: the English Premiership, the French Top 14 and the United Rugby Championship. Additionally, one team from South Africa also competes in the Challenge Cup.
EPCR Challenge Cup Format
Usually, the format of the EPCR Challenge Cup includes two pools containing 10 teams (however, this can vary slightly each year). Teams are ranked based on their domestic league performance and are then sorted into three tiers. Teams then play each other team in their pool twice: once at home and once away. Following the pool stage, the top teams in each pool qualify for the knockout stage, along with teams that drop down from the Heineken Champions Cup.
During the knockout stage, the remaining teams are ranked based on their performance in their respective pool. The top-ranked teams have home advantage for the quarter-finals and play against the four lower-ranked teams. The winners progress to the semi-finals and the final is played at a predetermined venue in May.