Leinster and Munster guaranteed home ties in reformatted Champions Cup
Quarter-final draws will effectively be open meaning Irish teams could face each other
Leinster will be guaranteed a home draw in the Champions Cup last-16. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Leinster and Munster are two of only five teams who will be guaranteed home advantage in the draw for the round of 16 in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, which will take place on Tuesday, March 9th.
This is their reward for winning both of their pool matches on the field of play without any Covid-19 related cancellations and the ensuing award of 28-0 bonus point wins, all of which heightens the importance of Leinster’s wins away to Montpellier and at home to Northampton, along with Munster’s Pool B victories against Harlequins at Thomond Park and that epic comeback win away to Clermont.
The other three teams to be assured of a home tie in the last 16 are Racing, Wasps and Bordeaux-Begles. As a result, Leinster and Munster cannot be drawn against any of that trio, or the Scarlets, but can be paired against any of the other 10 qualifiers, namely La Rochelle, Edinburgh, Toulon, Sale, Lyon, Toulouse, Clermont, Bristol, Exeter or Gloucester.
The draw for the last 16, to be held on the weekend of April 2nd/3rd/4th, does permit teams from the same pool to face each other but teams from the same league cannot be paired against one another.
This follows almost six weeks of on-off negotiations between representatives from all the leagues, with the French clubs understood to be particularly keen on avoiding all-Top 14 clashes in the round of 16, itself an agreed compromise solution to the abandonment of the pool stages with just two of the four rounds completed.
It was also felt that teams who had been awarded one of their two wins off the field of play due to coronavirus-enforced cancellations did not merit being rewarded with a guaranteed home tie.
The round of 16 replaces the projected first legs of the quarter-finals, which will now be one-off ties to be held a week later, on the weekend of April 9th/10th/11th.
Hence, the draw for the quarter-finals of both the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup will also be held on Tuesday March 9th, and these will effectively be ‘open’ draws, wherein clubs from the same league can be drawn against one another.
As it was also felt that the rankings had been skewed by Covid-19 related factors, nor will there be any seedings for the quarter-finals onwards, meaning that whichever last 16 pairing is drawn out of the hat first will have the carrot of a home tie in the last eight. In other words, were they to progress, conceivably Leinster and Munster could be drawn against each other.
Similar revised formats apply to the Challenge Cup where the eight highest-ranked clubs from the preliminary stages of that tournament at the time of the suspension of the tournament, and the eight clubs which have not qualified for the knockout stage of Heineken Champions Cup, will compete in the Round of 16.
Likewise the three clubs who had won both matches on the field of play have been assured of home advantage in the round of 16, namely London Irish, Ospreys and Leicester Tigers.
Ulster and Connacht are among the other 13 teams who will go into the draw and therefore, provided they avoid London Irish and Leicester, would then have an even money chance of a home draw. They cannot meet each other or Ospreys, Cardiff, Zebre, Benetton, Dragons or Glasgow, while the other qualifiers whom they could be drawn against are Agen, Newcastle, Northampton, Bath, Montpellier or Harlequins.
Were they to advance to the quarter-finals, Ulster and Connacht could meet then.