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French giants Toulouse unveil radical idea for next season's Champions Cup - report

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

French giants Toulouse have unveiled a revised format for the 2020/21 Champions Cup that would see Europe’s premier club tournament return to having 24 teams for the first time since 2013/14. Civil war in the boardrooms around that time led to the formation of EPCR, who took over the running of the European tournaments from ERC.

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One of its first alterations was the reduction in the number of participants from 24 to 20 for the first time since the 1998/99 European Cup. However, with the coronavirus pandemic leading to the shutdown of the 2019/20 campaign, four-time winners Toulouse have hatched a plan that would increase the number of qualifiers for next season’s tournament but free up two extra weekends in the calendar. 

In a report published by French sports daily L’Equipe, room to manoeuvre is viewed as invaluable next season due to the likelihood that the fixtures list will the top-heavy with international matches, while the leagues in France and England will seek to prioritise their domestic schedules.

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So rather than have the European qualifiers play six pool matches over the winter as has long been the tradition, Toulouse have instead proposed eight pools of three teams which would result in each club having just four group matches and this would free up two weekends.

There is no guarantee that the Top 14, Gallagher Premiership and Guinness PRO14 leagues for 2019/20 can be concluded, but the proposal suggests that each of these tournaments provides eight teams to participate in next season’s Champions Cup. 

This French idea will have its work cut out convincing PRO14 clubs of its merit, though. Rather than have three guaranteed home games as has long been the case, this format would reduce that schedule to two and whether a union such as the IRFU would agree is far from certain due to the importance they attach to European fixtures.

The Champions Cup’s potential return to 24 teams would also be seen as hugely ironic in countries like Ireland, who had been happy with the old 24-team system under the disbanded ERC but were forced into the reduction to 20 teams by the warring English and French factions.   

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EPCR’s delivery of a brighter future has already proven though going. Believing a multi-partnership sponsorship model was the best way forward, they jettisoned Heineken as long-serving title sponsor of the old European Cup only to find new partners were slow in materialised and the tournament became the Heineken Champions Cup last season. 

If there is no resumption in the leagues in the current season, the current top eight in France is Bordeaux, Lyon, Racing, Toulon, La Rochelle, Clermont, Toulouse and Montpellier.

The Premiership’s top eight is Exeter, Sale, Bristol, Northampton, Wasps, Bath, Harlequins and London Irish, while the best eight in the PRO14 is Leinster, Edinburgh, Munster, Ulster, Scarlets, Connacht, Glasgow and Cardiff, who would qualify as the Cheetahs are ineligible to play in Europe. 

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Shaylen 56 minutes ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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J
Jon 6 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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