Heineken Cup qualification


QUALIFICATION FOR the 2010-11 Heineken Cup at the end of this season has changed, with the 24th and last place no longer the result of a play-off between either the fourth ranked Welsh or fourth ranked Irish side in the Magners League, and the third ranked Italian side, writes GERRY THORNLEY.

As things stand, England (six), France (six), Ireland (three), Wales (three), Scotland (two) and Italy (two) account for 22 of those 24 places.

The remaining two positions are filled by the winners of the Heineken Cup, who gain an extra position for that country, and the winners of the Amlin Challenge Cup, who ensure automatic qualification for themselves and gain an extra place for their country.

The six pool winners in the Heineken Cup along with the two best runners-up will still progress to the quarter-finals, but this season’s changed format in the Amilin Cup will see the next three best placed runners-up in the Heineken go into the Amlin Cup quarter-finals. This will be at the expense of the three best group runners-up in the Amilin Cup, where only the five pool winners will advance to the quarter-finals.

However, England and France each has a cap of seven teams in the competition.

Hence, if, say, Leicester won the Heineken Cup and Wasps the Amlin Cup, or Toulouse and Toulon won the two competitions, whoever is the beaten finalist in the Heineken Cup gains an additional place for that country.

Thus, for example, in three of the last four years Munster (twice) and Leinster (once) won the Heineken Cup, and therefore would have ensured a fourth Irish qualifier (Connacht) of a place in the Heineken Cup.

For Connacht to qualify for the Heineken Cup, they must therefore finish above one of the other Irish sides in the Magners League, or win the Amlin Cup.

Alternatively though, were another Irish side to win the Heineken Cup or Amlin Cup (after being re-routed there as one of the next three best runners-up in the group stages) that would ensure all four Irish provinces would qualify for the Heineken Cup.