Two-leg round of 16 Champions Cup format ditched after one season
Heineken Champions Cup officials have confirmed that the two-legged round of 16 aggregate format that was used last month for the first time won’t be repeated in the upcoming 2022/23 season. Much was made about the new two-game structure that was introduced for the 2021/22 season after it produced some epic 160-minute encounters such as Toulouse versus Ulster, Montpellier against Harlequins and the all-England tie that featured Sale and Bristol.
Tournament organisers EPCR were able to introduce the two-game home and away aggregate aspect to the first round of the knockout stages as this year’s tournament is being staged over nine weekends.
However, next season will have just eight weekends available for the tournament to be staged and this has resulted in the two-legged round of 16 format being sacrificed and returning to the one-game format that was originally used in the 2020/21 competition when first introduced.
The two-legged round of 16 affairs generated much debate, with coaches such as Harlequins’ Tabai Matson especially bemused by its effect, but it wasn’t the only talking point. The fact that European action is taking up three of the four weekends this May also resulted in the criticism that it has stemmed the end-of-season momentum of the Gallagher Premiership, the Top 14 and the URC.
This bottleneck scheduling won’t be repeated next year as the rounds of knockout matches are more spaced out. The round of 16 and quarter-finals will take place on successive weekends, but there will then be a three-week break before the semi-finals and then another three-week break before the final is staged at the Tottenham Stadium in London.
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An EPCR statement read: “European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is pleased to announce the 2022/23 season dates for its competitions. Played over eight weekends, the 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will kick off in December with two consecutive weekends of pool stage action, and the next pool stage rounds will take place over consecutive weekends in mid-January 2023.
“The knockout stages will start on the weekend of March 31 March-April 1/2 with the round of 16 matches followed swiftly by the quarter-finals on April 7/8/9. The semi-finals get underway on the last weekend of April with the finals taking place on Friday 19 and Saturday 20, May 2023.
“The formats of both competitions are currently being finalised and an announcement is expected ahead of this season’s showpiece matches in Marseille on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 May. No further comment will be made at this stage.”
EPCR chief executive Anthony Lepage added: “We are coming to the climax of what has been a challenging season for European club rugby and have been able to welcome fans back to stadia from the recommencement of our competitions at the beginning of April.
“We have seen the very best EPCR competitions have to offer and are building towards what will no doubt be a sensational weekend of rugby for our finals later this month. As we look ahead to next season, we are pleased to announce the dates of our competitions and we will be announcing the formats in the coming weeks.”
Round 1 – 9/10/11 December 2022
Round 2 – 16/17/18 December 2022
Round 3 – 13/14/15 January 2023
Round 4 – 20/21/22 January 2023
Round of 16 – 31 March/ 1/2 April 2023
Quarter-finals – 7/8/9 April 2023
Semi-finals – 28/29/30 April 2023
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday 19 May 2023
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 20 May 2023
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