European Rugby Challenge Cup

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European Rugby Challenge Cup
Current season or competition:
2014–15 European Rugby Challenge Cup
European Rugby Challenge Cup Logo.png
Sport Rugby union
Inaugural season 2014–15
Number of teams 20
Nations  England
Ireland Ireland
Holders England Gloucester (2014–15)
Website EPCR Website
Related competitions European Rugby Champions Cup
Qualifying Competition

The European Rugby Challenge Cup is one of two annual European rugby union competitions organised annually by European Professional Club Rugby, beginning in the 2014–15 season. While originally intended to be a breakaway competition from the European Rugby Cup-organised European Challenge Cup,[1] it has instead replaced the Cup as the second tier competition for clubs whose country's national team compete in the Six Nations Championship, as well as some teams from select other European nations.



As with the tournaments predecessor, the European Challenge Cup, 20 teams will qualify for the European Rugby Challenge Cup.

18 of these teams will automatically qualify from the English Premiership, the French Top 14 and the Pro12.

  • Teams from these leagues that do not qualify for the European Rugby Champions Cup, either through league position or through the final team play-off, and (in the case of the Premiership and Top 14) are not relegated to a lower league, will automatically qualify for the Rugby Challenge Cup. Teams promoted to these leagues take up the remaining Challenge Cup places.

Qualifying Competition[edit]

The 19th and 20th teams will qualify via a Qualifying Competition, organised by European Professional Club Rugby and Rugby Europe.[2]

For the 2014-15 season, this took the form of 2 two-legged play-off matches, with the aggregate winner of each taking one of the two Rugby Europe spots in the draw, and it will involve the 2 best teams from Italy's National Championship of Excellence, plus a Romanian and Georgian selections.[3]

An expanded format, which is expected to feature more matches and more nations, for qualification into the 2015–16 European Rugby Challenge Cup, and subsequent seasons, was expected to be announced 15 September 2014.[4][5] However, on 5 September 2014, it was announced that no such competition would take place during the 2014-15 season, and negotiations continue to create the new competition as soon as possible.[6]

Subsequently, on 22 December 2014, EPCR announced negotiations for a new format for the competition had now been completed, and the Qualifying Competition for entry into the 2015–16 Challenge Cup would begin in January.[7]

The expanded format includes clubs from Rugby Europe member Unions, Russia, Spain and Portugal alongside representatives from the Italian Eccellenza, and is being jointly organised by EPCR, Rugby Europe, and the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR).

The 6 teams in the Qualifying Competition are split into 2 pools of 3 teams each. Each team will play the other teams in their pool once, before the two pool winners compete in a two-legged play-off against the teams currently competing in the Challenge Cup from the previous Qualifying Competition.

The winners, on aggregate, of these two play-offs will take up the Qualifying Competition places in the Challenge Cup.[7]


Group stage[edit]

For the pool stage there are five pools of four teams. The teams are ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into four tiers of five teams. Teams are then drawn from the tiers into pools at random, with the restriction that no pool shall contain two teams from the same country or league, until the allocation of Tier 4, which will contain up to 1 English team and/or up to 3 French teams, as well as the 2 Qualifying Competition qualifiers.[8]

Teams will play the other three teams in the pool twice, at home and away, and match points will be awarded depending on the result of each game, with teams receiving four points for a win, and two for a draw. Teams can also earn 1 try bonus point for scoring four or more tries, and 1 losing bonus point for losing a match by seven points or fewer.[9]

Following the completion of the pool stage, the five pool winners, and the three best pool runners-up qualify for the knock-out stage.[2]

Knock-out stage[edit]

The eight quarter-finalists are seeded - pool winners from 1-5, and runners-up from 6-8 - based on performance in their respective pool. The four pool winners with the best pool record receive home advantage for the quarter-finals against one of the lower-seeded teams, in a 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format. Unlike the later incarnations of the old European Challenge Cup, no teams will drop down into the competition from the Champions Cup.

The winners of the quarter-finals will contest the two semi-finals, the semi-final matches will be determined by a draw, and the winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which is held no later than the first weekend of May.[10]



English and French rugby union clubs had long held concerns over the format and structure of the Heineken Cup and organised by European Rugby Cup (ERC), predominantly in relation to the distribution of funds and an imbalance in the qualification process.[11] Some proposals had been made that, in future, rather than Ireland, Wales and Scotland each sending their top-placed teams in the Celtic League/Pro 12 to the Heineken Cup, the top teams from the league as a whole should be sent, regardless of nationality.[12]

In June 2012, Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, on behalf of the English and French clubs respectively, gave ERC two years notice of withdrawing from the Heineken Cup and also the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup competitions from the start of the 2014–15 season.[13]

In September 2012, Premiership Rugby announced a new four-year TV deal worth £152m with BT Sport including rights for English clubs’ European games. ERC responded with claims that Premier Rugby did not have the rights to a European tournament and announced a four-year deal with Sky Sports. Subsequently, in September 2013, the English and French clubs announced their intention to organise their own tournament, to be named the Rugby Champions Cup, from 2014–15 season onwards, and invited other European clubs, provinces and regions to join them.

On 22 October 2013, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the four Welsh regions, confirmed its full support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup.[14] Negotiations for both a new Heineken Cup and Rugby Champions Cup were then ongoing.[15]


On 10 April 2014, following almost two years of negotiations, a statement was released under the aegis of European Professional Club Rugby announcing that the nine stakeholders to the new competition, the six unions and three umbrella club organisations (Premiership Rugby, Ligue Nationale de Rugby and Regional Rugby Wales), had signed Heads of Agreement for the formation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new, third tournament, called the Qualifying Competition.[16] On the same day, BT and Sky signed an agreement that divided coverage of the new European competitions. Both will split the pool matches, quarter-finals, and semi-finals equally, and both will broadcast the final. BT will get first choice of English Premiership club matches in the Champions Cup, with Sky receiving the same privilege for the Challenge Cup.[17]


Season Winner Score Runner-up Venue Attendance
2014–15 Gloucester
19–13 Edinburgh
The Twickenham Stoop, London 14,316

Media coverage[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "English and French clubs pull out of Heineken cup and pledge to go it alone". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Future of European Rugby resolved" (Press release). Rugby Football Union. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Twitter @Rugby_Europe
  5. ^ Rugby Europe Launch,
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition Expanded
  8. ^ Accessed 8 June 2014
  9. ^ Rules - EPCR Website
  10. ^ - European Rugby Statement
  11. ^ "French clubs withdraw threat to down Heineken". 10 January 07.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Reid, Alasdair. "Scots approach Welsh proposal with caution". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 11 August 2008. 
  13. ^ Foy, Chris (10 September 2013). "English and French clubs pull out of Heineken cup and pledge to go it alone". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "Welsh regions support Champions Cup". ESPN Scrum. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  15. ^ "Background to the European rugby dispute". BBC Sport. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  16. ^ European Rugby Statement, The Rugby Paper 10/4/14
  17. ^ "BT and Sky sign joint agreement over European rugby". ESPN Scrum. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  18. ^ European Rugby Broadcast Statement, The Rugby Paper 10/4/14
  19. ^ Droits audiovisuels des Coupes d'Europe de rugby (French)
  20. ^ [1]