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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)

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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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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.

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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