European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has announced a series of changes to the qualification process for the Champions Cup, one of its showpiece club rugby union competitions.
The revamped system will come into effect ahead of the 2018-19 tournament and applies to the performance of teams during the 2017-18 season.
The seven highest-ranked clubs from the Pro12 league will now automatically qualify for the top-tier Champions Cup, regardless of their country of origin. This will replace the current system that requires a minimum of one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales to be included as qualifiers.
Since Italian clubs began playing in the Pro12 in 2010, only one team has been able to secure a top-seven finish, when Benetton Treviso placed seventh in the 2012-13 season. The existing qualification rules meant a team from another country that finished in the top seven had to make away for an Italian club to compete in the Champions Cup.
In addition, the EPCR has said the team that wins its second-tier Challenge Cup competition will also qualify for the Champions Cup. If the winning club has already secured qualification, then the losing finalist will instead progress as a qualifier.
However, despite alterations to the Pro12 qualification format, the EPCR said the systems currently in place for England’s Premiership and the French Top 14 will remain unchanged.
Vincent Gaillard, director general of the EPCR, said: “These changes are designed to strengthen both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup. The new qualification format will contribute further to the advances that we have made in attendances, TV audiences and expansion to new territories as we continue to create outstanding rugby experiences for participating clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters and importantly, our fans.”
Martin Anayi, chief executive of the Pro 12, also reacted positively to the new qualification format He said: “Everyone has seen the positive impact that meritocracy has had on the Pro12 since it was introduced in the 2014-15 season. Competition has never been greater among our clubs and these latest changes will deliver true meritocracy to our championship.
“In this past season, we have been greatly encouraged by the performances of our teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup and this development will prime them to make a greater impact in the future.”