CHAMPIONS Cup organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) are to abandon the pool stages of the competition and go straight to the knockout stages.
If EPCR maintain their original plan of two-legged quarter-finals, that would mean both Glasgow Warriors – bottom of Pool 2 – and Edinburgh – sixth in Pool 1 – have played their last matches in this season’s tournament. However, last night it emerged that an alternative plan would see the Cup go to a round of 16, to be followed by single-leg quarter-finals, which would hand Edinburgh a reprieve.
EPCR announced earlier this week that they had suspended rounds three and four of the pools in both the Champions and Challenge Cups, and although they have yet to announce officially how they now plan to complete the competition, yesterday English Premiership chief executive Darren Childs said the suspension had become a cancellation. “The decision was made by the EPCR executive,” he told the BBC. “The reason we can’t reschedule those [pool games]is that there are no available weekends.
“Our season is now full right until our final. It was decided very quickly by all three leagues [the English, the French and the PRO14]that we would complete the [European] tournaments in the last four weekends [in April and May].” EPCR are expected to confirm their plans next week. If the two-legged quarter-finals are to be played as scheduled in April, the top four in each pool to go through are: Leinster, Wasps, Bordeaux and La Rochelle from Pool 1, and Lyon, Racing 92, Toulouse and Munster from Pool 2.
Should that original scheme be followed, Edinburgh will drop into the last 16 of the Challenge Cup along with the other teams in places five to eight in the Champions Cup pools. The Challenge Cup is being run as a single pool of 14 teams this season, and the original idea was that the top eight in that pool would be joined in the last 16 by those other eight from the Champions Cup.
As things stand that would produce a last 16 of: London Irish, Ospreys, Cardiff, Leicester, Zebre, Agen, Benetton and Newcastle from the Challenge Cup, and Scarlets, Edinburgh, Toulon, Sale, Clermont, Bristol, Exeter and Gloucester from the Champions Cup.
Glasgow, who are bottom of Pool 2, will drop out of European competition having also played just that one match. They had to accept a 28-0 loss to Lyon after 20 members of their squad were forced to self-isolate.
The suspension of the pool stages was made necessary this week when the French government decided it was unsafe due to the pandemic situation to allow teams to travel into or out of the country at present.