Yes, Tank knows it’s now officially called The European Rugby Champions Cup, but he does not know a single person who does not still call it by it’s original name – The Heineken Cup! The basics, then …
And given that Heineken signed on as the first partner for the Champions Cup in 2014, and are officially credited as the Founding Partner of European Rugby, one can see why.
So what gives with the Super Rugby of the Northern Hemisphere? At first glance it looks as complex as the monstrosity SANZAR are set to deliver down South next year.
Not really, though …
In a nutshell, it is an annual tournament for the clubs (who qualify via their respective local leagues) whose countries’ national teams compete in the Six Nations.
There are 5 pools of 4 teams, which are drawn randomly from 4 tiers based on domestic league performance the previous season. No pool is allowed to contain 2 teams from the same country or league, until the allocation of Tier 4.
Teams play the other 3 teams in their pool twice, home and away, earning match points based on the result (4 points for a win, 2 for a draw) and bonus points for either scoring 4 or more tries, and/or losing a match by 7 points or less.
The 5 pool winners, and the 3 best pool runners-up (based on log points) qualify for the knock-out stage. These 8 quarter-finalists are then seeded based on log points, with the top 4 sides earning home ground advantage for the quarter-finals which follow the standard 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format.
The winners of the quarter-finals contest the two semi-finals, and the winners of the semi-finals contest the final, which has be held no later than the first weekend of May.
Those clubs who don’t qualify, compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
Simple enough hey?
But 3 little things add complexity:
- Home country and ground advantage for the semi-finals and final is determined not by log points, instead via a random draw. Yes, weird.
- The pool stages end on the 24th January next year, yet the first quarter final takes place only on the 8th of April, over 2 months later. Yes, weird.
- Based on a spat predominantly in relation to the distribution of funds and an imbalance in the qualification process in 2012/13, the resultant qualification process is quite cumbersome:
19 of the 20 teams qualify automatically based on position in their respective leagues:
England: 6 teams, based on position in the English Premiership
France: 6 teams, based on position in the Top 14
Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales: 7 teams, based on performance in the Pro12 (The best placed team from each country, and the highest ranked teams not already qualified)
The 20th and final team each season qualifies through a play-off competition between the best placed unqualified teams. For this year’s tournament, it involved a 3-team play-off. The 7th-placed team in the English Premiership, or winners of the 2014-15 European Rugby Challenge Cup if members of the English Premiership and not already qualified, played against the 8th-placed team from the Pro12, with the winner playing the 7th-placed team in the Top 14. My word!
To facilitate Rugby World Cup this year, there will be no play-offs for the 2016/17 Champions Cup, with the 20th place going to the winner of the 2016 Challenge Cup if not already qualified.
See how it suddenly got a little complex?
Anyhoo. Toulon are the current holders of the cup, having become the first club to win 3 titles in a row, while Toulouse have won the competition a record 4 times, the last of which was in 2010. Irish club Leinster have also won the tournament 3 times.
A French club has won it 8 times, while England and Ireland have 6 apiece. Wales, Scotland and Italy are yet to trouble the engravers.
Last year 985 717 people attended games, for an average attendance of 14 712, with the highest attendance being 56 622 people.
This weekend sees the 2015/16 tournament get going …
Head to Vodacom Rugby for the full list of fixtures, and watch out for the fun and prize filled Champions Cup Vodacom SuperBru pool …