The Bears finished ninth in the Gallagher Premiership

Bristol Bears will play in the Heineken Champions Cup next season, following the suspension of London Irish. Bristol finished ninth in the Gallagher Premiership last season.

In an official statement, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: “Following the RFU’s decision to suspend London Irish from all competitions, EPCR can clarify that regrettably, the club will not compete in the 2023-24 Champions Cup.

“As Bristol Bears are the highest-ranked club in the Gallagher Premiership league table at the conclusion of the regular season which did not qualify for the 2023-24 Champions Cup, they will now replace London Irish in next season’s tournament.

“The formats for the 2023-24 Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will be announced shortly, as will details of the pool draws for both tournaments.”

Aside from seeing Bristol make the Champions Cup here will be a lot of attention on what shape the competition takes, as last season’s format came in for criticism…

Should Champions Cup format change?

Last season the Champions Cup was formatted to include two pools of 12 teams, with each team playing two others, home and away, and then progressing to the last 16 if they finish in the top eight of the pool. It is a format that has received a lot of criticism, particularly around the balance of the fixture list and a perceived lack of clarity for supporters to follow.

Many want a return to the old format of pools of four teams – something that could come in again as early as next season.

In March, EPCR Chairman Dominic McKay said of format changes: “We are looking at our format at the moment, quite thoughtfully and quite deeply, with a view to trying to make sure it is appropriate going forward.

“We recognise there has been a fair bit of interest in the format this season and in recent seasons, and we want to make sure we have the right format for the future.

“So, we are looking at that in a very deep way just now. We’re engaging with our leagues, we’re engaging with the unions, we’re engaging with our broadcast partners and our sponsors.

“But importantly, we’re engaging with our fans and with our players to get feedback from them also.

“So, it has been quite a deep piece of analysis about what we can do to enhance and improve the format, if that’s helpful and appropriate.

“We’re engaging with around 1,000 rugby enthusiasts across the whole of Europe, so everyone will have a different perspective.”

Are you excited to see Bristol make the Champions Cup? Let us know at or on social media.

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.