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The most confusing Champions Cup pool draw ever has taken place... and new champions Exeter have it all to do

(Photo by Harold Cunningham/EPCR)

Newly crowned European champions Exeter Chiefs won’t get anything easy when they begin their Champions Cup title defence in December as they have been drawn against Toulouse and Glasgow in the revamped 2020/21 format.

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Rob Baxter’s side lifted the Champions Cup trophy for the first time after a dramatic 25th anniversary final earlier this month against Racing, but Exeter have a long road ahead if they are to reach next May’s decider in Marseille. 

Under the new one-season format featuring two pools of twelve clubs, a structure that will generally confuse the rugby public, reigning Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster Rugby will have Montpellier and Northampton as their opponents in Pool A, while European runners-up Racing are in Pool B where they will be up against Connacht and Harlequins.

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Wasps, who were edged out by the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership final, will meet Dragons and Montpellier in Pool A, and PRO14 finalists Ulster take on Gloucester and Toulouse in Pool B.

Munster will renew their European rivalry with Clermont and Harlequins in Pool B, while Bristol Bears boss Pat Lam will make a return to Galway when the Challenge Cup winners face off against Connacht and Clermont, also in Pool B.

For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the Premiership, the PRO14 and the TOP 14 were classified into four tiers based on their performances in the knockout phases of their respective leagues, and/or on their qualifying positions in their respective league tables.

Each tier contained six clubs with tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on. Starting with tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained twelve clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.

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The tier 1 and tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which were not from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applied to the tier 2 and tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which were not from the same league.

The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures and the Challenge Cup preliminary stage fixtures – including venues, kick-off times and TV coverage – will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.

The four highest-ranked clubs from each Heineken Champions Cup pool will qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played over two legs, and the clubs ranked from number five to number eight in each pool will qualify for the round of 16 of the Challenge Cup.

2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP

POOL A (with opponents in brackets)
Bordeaux (Dragons, Northampton)
Leinster (Montpellier, Northampton)
Wasps (Dragons, Montpellier)
Bath (La Rochelle, Scarlets)
Edinburgh (La Rochelle, Sale)
Toulon (Sale, Scarlets)
La Rochelle (Bath, Edinburgh)
Sale (Edinburgh, Toulon)
Scarlets (Bath, Toulon)
Dragons (Bordeaux, Wasps)
Montpellier (Leinster, Wasps)
Northampton (Bordeaux, Leinster)

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POOL B (with opponents in brackets)
Exeter (Glasgow, Toulouse)
Lyon (Glasgow, Gloucester)
Ulster (Gloucester, Toulouse)
Bristol (Clermont, Connacht)
Munster (Clermont, Harlequins)
Racing (Connacht, Harlequins)
Clermont (Bristol, Munster)
Connacht (Bristol, Racing)
Harlequins (Munster, Racing)
Glasgow (Exeter, Lyon)
Gloucester (Lyon, Ulster)
Toulouse (Exeter, Ulster)

2020/21 season weekends
Round 1 – 11/12/13 December 2020
Round 2 – 18/19/20 December 2020
Round 3 – 15/16/17 January 2021
Round 4 – 22/23/24 January 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 1st leg – 2/3/4 April 2021
Challenge Cup Round of 16 – 2/3/4 April 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 2nd leg – 9/10/11 April 2021
Challenge Cup quarter-finals – 9/10/11 April 2021
Semi-finals – 30 April – 1/2 May 2021

2021 finals – Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Challenge Cup final – Friday 21 May
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 22 May

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Shaylen 2 hours 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

12 Go to comments
J
Jon 8 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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