Following a spectacularly successful season which included the historic introduction of the top South African clubs into its tournaments, record-breaking attendances and a memorable Finals Weekend, EPCR has announced new formats for the 2023/24 Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup.
The new competition structures which have been devised in conjunction with the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the Vodacom United Rugby Championship signal a modified return to a tried and tested multi-pool format.
Both the Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup will be played over eight weekends with four pool stage rounds and four knockout stage rounds culminating in the London 2024 finals which will be staged at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next May.
EPCR Chairman Dominic McKay said: “We are delighted to announce the new formats for the 2023/24 season. We’ve been working hard with our Leagues and key stakeholders to ensure we have the right competition structures – for players and clubs – but also crucially for supporters.
“Our focus has always been to ensure that everyone can easily understand, engage with and follow our tournaments, and also to ensure we have a structure that creates real sporting jeopardy in as many matches as possible.
“We reached this conclusion following a thorough process during which we engaged with stakeholders in a meaningful way – not just our Leagues and unions, but also with our broadcasters, partners and around 1,000 rugby enthusiasts in order to canvass their views.
“We will continue to work with our stakeholders to look at ways in which we can improve both tournaments, an objective which is at the heart of our strategy and commitment to fans, clubs and partners.
“Our competitions truly are the pinnacle of professional club rugby, and we have to ensure that they continue to engage and to enthrall existing and new audiences along the way.”
The Champions Cup will be competed for by 24 elite clubs with eight representatives from the TOP 14, eight from the Gallagher Premiership and eight from the Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC).
The clubs will be divided into four pools of six by means of a draw with Champions Cup winners, Stade Rochelais, League winners, Saracens and Munster Rugby, as well as the winners of Saturday’s TOP 14 final between Stade Rochelais and Stade Toulousain, making up Tier 1 with each club drawn into a separate pool at the outset.
If Stade Rochelais happen to win the TOP 14 title, then the Champions Cup final runners-up, Leinster Rugby, will be included in Tier 1.
The remaining 20 clubs make up Tier 2 and will be either drawn or allocated into the four pools by means of an ‘open’ draw with the following in-built key principles:
• There can only be a maximum of two clubs from the same league in each pool.
• Clubs from the same Vodacom URC Shield cannot be in the same pool. Therefore, the Irish qualifiers – Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby and Connacht Rugby – will each be in a different pool, and similarly, the DHL Stormers and the Vodacom Bulls from South Africa will be kept apart during the draw.
• There will be no matches between clubs from the same league, so for the purposes of creating the fixtures, each club will play four matches against four different clubs who are not from the same league either home or away during the pool stage.
At the conclusion of the pool stage, the four highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the Round of 16 and the clubs ranked number five in each of the pools will qualify for the knockout stage of the EPCR Challenge Cup.
The pool draws for the 2023/24 tournaments will take place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Wednesday 21 June and will be broadcast live on EPCRugby.TV. Further details and timings will be communicated shortly.
2023/24 CHAMPIONS CUP QUALIFIERS
TOP 14 – Stade Rochelais, Stade Toulousain, Racing 92, Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Lyon, Stade Français Paris, RC Toulon, Aviron Bayonnais
GALLAGHER PREMIERSHIP – Saracens, Sale Sharks, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Harlequins, Exeter Chiefs, Bath Rugby, Bristol Bears
VODACOM UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – Munster Rugby, DHL Stormers, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Glasgow Warriors, Vodacom Bulls, Connacht Rugby, Cardiff Rugby
Round 1 – 8/9/10 December 2023
Round 2 – 15/16/17 December 2023
Round 3 – 12/13/14 January 2024
Round 4 – 19/20/21 January 2024
Round of 16 – 5/6/7 April 2024
Quarter-finals – 12/13/14 April 2024
Semi-finals – 3/4/5 May 2024
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday 24 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Champions Cup final – Saturday 25 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium