There will be no shortage of headaches for competition organisers over the coming weeks and months as the Covid-19 pandemic puts a shuddering halt to the 2019/20 season.
With the current rugby season likely to be cancelled, we immediately cast our minds to the 2020/21 campaign and the potential ramifications that this unprecedented time will have on the new season.
One particular headache will be the teams who make up next season’s Champions Cup.
Qualification for the Champions Cup is based on respective league position across the PRO14, Premiership and Top 14.
The first decision which will need to be made is whether the same teams who competed in this season’s competition will be eligible for next season or will EPCR use the current league tables as they stand as the basis for the make-up of the 2020/21 campaign.
The latter option is the most likely and fairest route so here we will take a look at those teams who have qualified based on the current league tables.
20 teams qualify for the Champions Cup; seven from the PRO14, six from the Top 14 and six from the Premiership. The 20th spot is allocated based on a specific set of criteria which we will discuss further below.
The PRO14 has seven spots – the top-three teams in Conference A and Conference B, not including the South African teams (the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings).
The seventh spot is then determined by the winner of a playoff match between the fourth-placed teams in both conferences. Again, the South African franchises are not included in this.
As it stands, Leinster, Ulster and Glasgow would qualify from Conference A. Edinburgh, Munster and Scarlets would qualify from Conference B.
Cheetahs are in fourth place in Conference A but as they are not eligible for European competition, that spot in the playoffs would go to the Dragons.
The Welsh club would then play Connacht in a playoff match to determine the final allocation from the PRO14.
France’s top-tier sees the top six clubs qualify for the Champions Cup and as it stands, those teams are Bordeaux Begles, Lyon, Racing 92, Toulon, La Rochelle and Clermont Auvergne.
Remarkably, this would leave out a star-studded Toulouse side as they currently lie in seventh place, one point behind Clermont.
The Premiership also sees its top-six teams qualify for the Champions Cup and as it stands, those clubs are Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Bristol Bears, Northampton Saints, Wasps and Bath.
We now have 19 teams for next season’s competition which means there is one place remaining. EPCR have set out the following criteria for determining the 20th and final spot in the Champions Cup:
In accordance with a decision of the EPCR Board comprising the nine unions, federations and league bodies, the 20th place in the Heineken Champions Cup, provided the club is nominated by its league body, will be determined as follows:
i) Heineken Champions Cup winner, if not already qualified
ii) Challenge Cup winner, if not already qualified
iii) Challenge Cup losing finalist, if not already qualified
iv) Play-off match between the losing Challenge Cup semi-finalists, if not already qualified
v) Highest ranked non-qualified club by virtue of league position from the same league as the Heineken Champions Cup winner
In the scenario that this season is declared null and void, criteria (i) to (iv) do not apply as there will be no finals or semi-finals of the Champions Cup or Challenge Cups.
As a result, we look at criteria (v).
Technically, the current Champions Cup winner is Saracens.
As a result, the final spot would come from the Premiership and in this instance, Harlequins would be the 20th team as they are the next best-placed team after the top-six.
Possible 2020/21 Champions Cup Competing Teams
Harlequins (20th team)