Although negotiations are still ongoing over the exact format for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup, it has been agreed that 24 teams will compete in the competition and the identity of those qualifiers are now known.
The organisers of what is now the United Rugby Championship have confirmed the top eight qualifiers for next season’s Champions Cup, with the four Irish sides atop the seedings.
They are: 1 Leinster, 2 Munster, 3 Ulster, 4 Connacht, 5 Scarlets, 6 Ospreys, 7 Cardiff, Glasgow Warriors.
The final rankings from the Top 14 and the Premiership hinge on the semi-finals and finals over the next two weekends, but the eight qualifiers are known. In France, they are Toulouse, La Rochelle, Racing 92, Bordeaux-Begles, Clermont, Stade Francais, Castres and Montpellier, who qualify as winners of the European Challenge Cup at the expense of three-time Champions Cup winners Toulon, who finished eighth in the Top 14.
The Premiership qualifiers are Bristol, Exeter, Sale, Harlequins, Northampton, Leicester, Bath and Wasps. Declan Kidney's London Irish painfully missed out by two points to Wasps after losing six games in a row, culminating in defeats by Gloucester to a last-ditch penalty by Billy Twelvetrees and by Wasps thanks to an 86th minute try by Tom Willis after Irish surrendered a 23-point interval lead.
They then had their final game away to Bristol cancelled after an outbreak of Covid in their ranks.
Four rounds of pool matches have been set aside for next season’s Champions Cup, in December and January, suggesting that next season’s format will be similar to the 2020-21 competition, when the 24 participants were divided into two pools of 12, with 16 teams advancing to the knock-out stages.
A two-legged, home and away round of 16 has also been factored into the format after the Six Nations in April 2022, before quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final, which has been fixed for May 28th at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.
According to a statement, “EPCR is currently finalising details of a new shareholder agreement including new and improved tournament formats for the 2022/23 season and beyond.”
The agreement is apparently set to see less influential roles for the respective unions and federations, and more so for Premiership Rugby, Ligue National de Rugby and the organisers of the URC.
"As we put the finishing touches to a brand new shareholder agreement which promises to be positive for everyone involved in our tournaments, we are continuing to refine and develop the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, and next season will see a return to a full series of massively exciting and competitive matches across Europe," said EPCR chief executive Vincent Gaillard.
The EPCR statement added: “Discussions to finalise all details of the formats for next season, and future seasons, within the framework of the new shareholder agreement, are ongoing, and these discussions include the future participation of South African clubs in EPCR’s tournaments as referenced in United Rugby Championship’s announcement.”
The longer term format and new shareholder agreement is likely to be agreed and announced not long after the Top 14 and Premiership finals the weekend after next.
2021-22 European weekends
Round 1 : December 10th-12th
Round 2: December 17th-19th
Round 3: January 14th-16th
Round 4: January 21st-23rd
Round of 16, 1st leg: April 8th-10th
Round of 16, 2nd leg: April 15th-17th
Quarter-finals: May 6th-8th
Semi-finals: May 13th-15th
Challenge Cup final: Friday, 27th, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Heineken Champions Cup final: Saturday, May 28th, Stade Vélodrome,