European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the organisers of the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup, have confirmed that the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup will contain 24 clubs.
Up until this season the competition had been played out between 20 clubs, usually the top six from the Gallagher Premiership, Top14 and Guinness Pro14, as well as the winner of a play-off and the winner of the Challenge Cup.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a reshuffle this year with 24 teams, the top eight from each of the respective leagues, going head-to-head to win European Rugby’s top prize. When the pool stage had to be cut short due to a virus outbreak it was a round of 16 that came into play with EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday confirming to BT Sport last week that this extra round had become an overwhelming success.
On the back of that the competition will stay at 24 clubs next season, with the likely format seeing eight pools of three playing each other home and away, a two-legged round of 16, and then the usual quarter-final, semi-final and Final route.
Cardiff Blues, who finished as the seventh ranked side in this year’s Guinness Pro14, are now expected to be involved in the Heineken Cup next season, as a leading league official confirmed to WalesOnline that top four from each conference will be nominated as the competition’s entrants.
Although rumours had persisted about the involvement of the four new South African sides with some suggestions that the Rainbow Cup SA could act as a qualifying event, this will now not be the case. If they are involved it will be in the Challenge Cup only.
Speaking at a virtual Q&A this week, chief executive Richard Holland confirmed that the club, with support from the Welsh Rugby Union, were doing everything possible to ensure that we would be involved in the Heineken Cup should the competition expand to 24 teams.
EPCR state that “further details regarding the formats and key dates for EPCR’s tournaments will be communicated as soon as practicable”.