The Challenge Cup will also have a different look next season

New European Champions Cup format for 2020-21

Next season’s European Champions and Challenge Cups will have a different look as tournament organisers alter the formats in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020-21 Heineken Champions Cup will expand to feature 24 clubs, instead of the normal 20, while the Challenge Cup will start with 14 clubs rather than the usual 20.

The tournaments will take place over eight weekends, with four rounds of pool matches followed by the knockout stages. In the Champions Cup this will involve two-legged quarter-finals followed by the semi-finals and final. In the Challenge Cup there will be a ‘round of 16’ involving eight clubs dropping down from the Champions Cup followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

Here are more details on the new European Champions Cup format for 2020-21…

Who will qualify for the 2020-21 Champions Cup?

The top eight-ranked teams in each of the Gallagher Premiership, Guinness Pro14 and Top 14 will qualify for Europe’s elite event. However, if this season’s Challenge Cup winner has not finished in the top eight, they will replace the eighth-placed team in their domestic league in next season’s Champions Cup.

With the Top 14 season cancelled earlier this year due to the pandemic, we already know the top eight of that league: Bordeaux-Begles, Lyon, Racing 92, Toulon, La Rochelle, Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse and Montpellier. If Castres go on to win this season’s Challenge Cup, though, they will replace Montpellier in the 2020-21 Champions Cup.

New European Champions Cup format

In the running: Montpellier could be replaced by Castres as France’s eighth team (Getty Images)

The eight teams that have qualified via the Pro14 are the top four clubs in each conference (excluding the South African sides) when the league was suspended in March. So the teams that will compete in the 2020-21 Champions Cup are: Leinster, Edinburgh, Munster, Ulster, Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors, Connacht and Dragons.

The regular Premiership season will not be concluded until the start of October and it will be the teams that finish in the top eight in the final table that qualify for the Champions Cup. However, if Leicester fail to climb the table to finish in the top eight and do win the Challenge Cup, they would replace the team that did finish eighth at Europe’s top table next season.

What’s the 2020-21 Champions Cup tournament format? 

The 24 clubs will be split into four tiers based on their league position/performance in the knockout stages of their league. For example, if a club finishes fourth in the Premiership table but wins the final they will be ranked first.

Tier One (six clubs): 1st and 2nd ranked clubs from each league

Tier Two (six clubs): 3rd and 4th ranked clubs from each league

Tier Three (six clubs): 5th and 6th ranked clubs from each league

Tier Four (six clubs): 7th and 8th ranked clubs from each league.

If the 2020 Champions Cup winner is not already ranked number one, they will become the second-ranked club from their league. However, if Saracens win this year’s Champions Cup they will not be able to defend their title as only teams in a country’s top league can compete in Europe and Saracens will be relegated to the Championship at the end of this season.

Clubs will be split into two groups of 12, Pool A and Pool B, with clubs from the same league and tier unable to be in the same pool.

The pool stages will consist of four fixtures, two home and two away, between clubs in the same pool, but they cannot play teams from their own league.

Clubs in Tier One and Tier Four in the same pool but not in the same league will play each other home and away.

Clubs in Tier Two and Tier Three in the same pool but not in the same league will play each other home and away.

The usual match point system applies – four for a win and two for a draw, with a bonus point for scoring four or more tries and losing by seven points or fewer. If clubs are level on match points at the end of the pool stage, they will be split on points difference, then tries scored, then fewest players suspended for disciplinary incidents and then, if still equal, by drawing lots.

The quarter-finals will be played home and away between the top four clubs in Pool A and the top four clubs in Pool B.

QF1: Number 1-ranked club in Pool A  v Number 4-ranked club in Pool B

QF2: Number 2-ranked club in Pool B  v Number 3-ranked club in Pool A

QF3: Number 2-ranked club in Pool A  v Number 3-ranked club in Pool B

QF4: Number 1-ranked club in Pool B  v Number 4-ranked club in Pool A

The semi-finals (Winner QF1 v Winner QF2 and Winner QF3 v Winner QF4) will be played over one leg, with the highest-ranked club from the pool having home country advantage. The final will then be held in Marseille.

Who will qualify for the 2020-21 Challenge Cup?

The 14 teams in the Challenge Cup will consist of four from the Pro14 (Benetton, Cardiff Blues, Ospreys and Zebre), six from the Top 14 (Bayonne, Castres (or Montpellier if Castres win Challenge Cup), Brive, Pau, Agen and Stade Francais) and four from the Premiership (Newcastle and the three who don’t qualify for the Champions Cup).

What’s the 2020-21 Challenge Cup tournament format? 

The Challenge Cup will start with a preliminary stage of four rounds of matches, with clubs playing two at home and two away.

The 14 teams will be split into two tiers of seven based on their league position (Newcastle, who are promoted to the Premiership, would be ranked 12th).

TIER 1

Top 14 clubs ranked 9th, 10th and 11th

Premiership clubs ranked 9th and 10th

Pro14 clubs ranked 9th and 10th

TIER 2

Top 14 clubs ranked 12th, 13th and 14th

Premiership clubs ranked 11th and 12th

Pro14 clubs ranked 11th and 12th

Flying in: Adam Radwan and Newcastle Falcons will play in the Challenge Cup (Getty Images)

Clubs won’t play against teams in the same tier or against teams from the same league and the same match point system as the Champions Cup applies.

The top eight-ranked clubs from the Challenge Cup (CC) preliminary stage will move onto the ‘round of 16’, where they will be joined by the clubs ranked from fifth to eighth in Pool A and Pool B at the end of the Champions Cup (HCC) group stage.

This is the format of matches:

CC 1 (ranked 1) v HCC 8 (ranked 12)

CC 2 (ranked 2) v HCC 7 (ranked 11)

CC 3 (ranked 3) v HCC 6 (ranked 10)

CC 4 (ranked 4) v HCC 5 (ranked 9)

HCC 4 (ranked 8) v CC 5 (ranked 13)

HCC 3 (ranked 7) v CC 6 (ranked 14)

HCC 2 (ranked 6) v CC 7 (ranked 15)

HCC 1 (ranked 5) v CC 8 (ranked 16)

The winners will advance to the quarter-finals, with home venue advantage awarded to the highest-ranked clubs. The same applies for the semi-finals, with the final to be played in Marseille.

When will the European competitions start?

The first weekend of the 2020-21 season is 11/12/13 December.

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