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EPCR confirm next season's format as South African sides set for debut

By Kim Ekin
Gregory Alldritt lifts the trophy for La Rochelle (Photo by PA)

The EPCR have confirmed the the format of next season’s Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup – which includes South African sides for the first time in its history.

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The Stormers, Bulls and Sharks – as well as eight representatives from the Gallagher Premiership and eight from the TOP 14 will compete for Champions Cup. The Lions and the Cheetahs will enter the Challenge Cup, all of which was confirmed earlier this month.

In the Heineken Champiosn Cup clubs will be divided into two pools of 12 – Pool A and Pool B – and the tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting next December when Stade Rochelais begin the defence of their title.

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After a frenetic final weekend in the Top 14 regular season, we catch up with one of the key men from surprise table-toppers Castres and the top tackler in the Top 14 this season. Australian second row Tom Staniforth fills us in on his journey from Canberra to Castres, the family environment at the club, how a bunch of battlers go about beating off competition from a host of teams with much bigger budgets over 26 rounds and gives us an insight into what makes a club that often goes under the radar so special. There’s also a look into everything that happened on the final day, a look ahead to the Barrages and we pick our MEATER Moment of the Week…
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The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the showpiece final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on 20 May 2023.

The draw for the Heineken Champions Cup pools, which will be live-streamed from the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday 28 June, will be carried out on the same lines as last season with the clubs separated into four tiers based on their rankings, and clubs from the same league in the same tier will not be drawn into the same pool.

The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs will be in Tier 2, the number 5 and 6 ranked clubs will be in Tier 3, and the number 7 and number 8 ranked clubs will be Tier 4.

The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.

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It’s much the same ein the Challenge Cup.

Twenty clubs will play in next season’s EPCR Challenge Cup with eight representatives from the United Rugby Championship, including the Johannesburg-based Lions who will also be making a historic first appearance in an EPCR competition, six from the TOP 14, five from the Premiership, as well as the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein who have accepted an invitation to compete.

The clubs will be divided into two pools of 10 – Pool A and Pool B – and in a similar format to the Heineken Champions Cup, the tournament will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting in December.

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The six highest-ranked clubs from each pool, as well as the 9th and 10th ranked clubs from each of the Heineken Champions Cup pools, will qualify for a Round of 16, which will be followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final at the Aviva Stadium on 19 May 2023.

The live-streamed draw for the EPCR Challenge Cup pools is also scheduled to take place at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday 28 June with the clubs separated into three tiers based on their rankings, and clubs from the same league will not play against one another during the pool stage.

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The number 1 and number 2 ranked clubs from each league will be in Tier 1, the number 3 and number 4 ranked clubs from each league, as well as the number 5 and number 6 ranked clubs from the URC, will be in Tier 2. The Dragons, Zebre Parma, Aviron Bayonnais, USAP, Bath Rugby and the Cheetahs will be in Tier 3.

The Tier 1 and the Tier 3 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away over four pool stage rounds.

The Tier 2 clubs which have been drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage. In order to adhere to the key principle of no same-league matches, Tier 2 clubs from the TOP 14 can only play against opposition from the URC, and similarly, Tier 2 clubs from the Premiership can also only play against opposition from the URC.

2022/23 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP QUALIFIERS
TOP 14: Castres Olympique, Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Stade Toulousain, 5 Stade Rochelais, 6 Racing 92, 7 ASM Clermont Auvergne, 8 Lyon
Gallagher Premiership: Leicester Tigers, Saracens, 3 Harlequins, 4 Northampton Saints, 5 Gloucester Rugby, 6 Sale Sharks, 7 Exeter Chiefs, 8 London Irish
United Rugby Championship: Stormers, Bulls, 3 Leinster Rugby, 4 Ulster Rugby, 5 Sharks, 6 Munster Rugby, 7 Edinburgh Rugby, 8 Ospreys

2022/23 EPCR CHALLENGE CUP QUALIFIERS
United Rugby Championship: 1 Glasgow Warriors, 2 Scarlets, 3 Connacht Rugby, 4 Lions, 5 Benetton Rugby, 6 Cardiff Rugby, 7 Dragons, 8 Zebre Parma
TOP 14: 1 RC Toulon, 2 Section Paloise, 3 Stade Français Paris, 4 CA Brive, 5 Aviron Bayonnais, 6 USAP
Gallagher Premiership: 1 Wasps, 2 Bristol Bears, 3 Worcester Warriors, 4 Newcastle Falcons, 5 Bath Rugby
Invited: Cheetahs

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Wonton 6 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

27 Go to comments
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Nick 8 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

31 Go to comments
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