Ulster and Connacht look set to miss out on an expanded knockout stage of the Heineken Champions Cup.
The next two rounds of both the Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup have been postponed due to French concerns over rising coronavirus cases in the UK and Ireland.
As a result, the already congested fixture list for the European rugby season may need a bit of tinkering, with scrapping the group stages in European competitions emerging as a possible solution.
And where better to start than the all-time leading points scorer, @RonanOGara10, in 2011 🤩
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 12, 2021
Only four available weekends now remain for pan-European club competitions and according to The Guardian, European club rugby chiefs are set to replace the remaining group stage games with a straight-knockout format consisting of the top 16 clubs.
This means that both Ulster and Connacht would miss out on the knockout stages, as both clubs sit outside the top eight places in Conference B of the Heineken Champions Cup.
The round of the last 16 fixtures will be decided on where each club currently sit in their respective conferences.
So for example, the top-placed side in Conference A will play the bottom-placed side in Conference B, and vice versa. The second-placed side in one conference will face the seventh-placed side in the other, and so on.
As a result, the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup should look like this:
Leinster v Gloucester, Wasps v Exeter, Bordeaux-Bègles v Bristol, La Rochelle v Clermont, Lyon v Sale, Racing 92 v Toulon, Toulouse v Edinburgh and Munster v Scarlets.
Meanwhile, the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup will feature the bottom sides from the Heineken Champions Cup, and could look like this:
London Irish v Glasgow, Ospreys v Harlequins, Cardiff v Dragons, Leicester v Montpellier, Zebre v Bath, Agen v Northampton, Benetton v Connacht and Newcastle v Ulster.
While not ideal, the re-jigged tournament could create some extra excitement, thanks to the extra round of knockout rugby.