The 2014/15 season is well under way in Europe, with the Guinness Pro12, Aviva Premiership and Top 14 all at least 5 games in. Kicking off this weekend is the new European Champions Cup competition, formerly known as the Heineken Cup, which ran for almost 10 years. The ex-tournament system was criticised by the French and English rugby unions, with both claiming that it was unfair that some of teams which struggled in their domestic league were still able to qualify for the competition due to a set amount of clubs that were allowed from each country. For example, if Edinburgh were to finish last in the Pro12, they could still qualify because Scotland would be allowed two teams to compete in the tournament, and since they only have two professional teams, Edinburgh would qualify to play. The new tournament means only the best teams from each respective league will compete.
The top 6 teams from the French Top 14 and the English Aviva Premiership
will qualify, alongside the highest placed team from each nation (Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy) and the 3 highest placed teams after national qualification from the Celtic Guinness Pro12
. Therefore, 19 teams will automatically qualify from finishing high enough in their leagues. A 20th
place is awarded to the winner of a play-off between the 7th
placed club in the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership. The play-off is played over two legs, with the aggregate score of both matches deciding the winner. This year, London Wasps and Stade Francais battled it out for the last place in the European Champions cup, with the English club coming out on top over both legs.
The groups have been decided, and the coming weekend will showcase the finest teams in Europe battling it out against each other in the beginning of a tournament that will end on May 2nd
at Twickenham. Some of the pools will be sure to produce some epic battles, none more so than Pool 1, which holds two time Heineken cup winners, Munster, alongside last years finalists Saracens, 2013 finalists, Clermont and previous English premiership winners Sale Sharks.
After the group stages, the winner of their pool will progress through to the quarter finals, alongside the three highest scoring second placed teams from the groups. In the last eight, the ties will go through seeding. The team with the most wins and/or most points will play the 8th
seed, who progressed from their group with the fewest points. Second seed will play seventh, third play sixth, and so forth. After this, the winners of each quarter-final tie will be drawn at random to see who plays who, and what team will play at home. The winners of the two ties will progress into the final at the home of rugby, Twickenham, on the 2nd
of May, to contest the final of the European Champions cup.
There are many teams to look out for this year, with French superstar club and reigning European champions for the past two consecutive years, Toulon, surely being one of the favourites to retain the title. Regular high finishers Leinster shouldn’t be ruled out either, and an outside bet would be Glasgow Warriors, who are flying in the Guinness Pro12.