The European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup is set to kick off for 2017-18 and Guinness PRO14 clubs have every right to believe they will once again be pushing for the title of Best In Europe.
With a grand total of 28 European titles between this season’s competing clubs and with a galaxy of world-class players from more than 20 nations set to light up pitches from Limerick to La Rochelle, the Champions Cup is the one to win for the continent’s top teams.
The enduring prestigious nature of Europe’s blue riband competition was one of the themes emerging from Monday’s 2017/18 season launch for Guinness PRO14 clubs staged at the Convention Centre Dublin where Munster Rugby’s Peter O’Mahony and Rory Best of Ulster Rugby, who both had the honor of captaining the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand last summer, were among the star turns.
All seven PRO14 clubs participating in the Champions Cup – Scarlets, Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Ospreys, Ulster Rugby, Glasgow Warriors and Benetton Rugby – attended the event with leading players joined either by their Directors of Rugby or Head Coaches. Connacht Rugby represented the PRO14 clubs competing in the Challenge Cup.
Past European Cup Champions (and Runners Up):
1996: Toulouse (Cardiff)
1997: Brive (Leicester)
1998: Bath (Brive)
1999: Ulster (Colomiers)
2000: Northampton (Munster)
2001: Leicester (Stade Francais)
2002: Leicester (Munster)
2003: Toulouse (Perpignan)
2004: Wasps (Toulouse)
2005: Toulouse (Stade Francais)
2006: Munster (Biarritz)
2007: Wasps (Leicester)
2008: Munster (Toulouse)
2009: Leinster (Leicester)
2010: Toulouse (Biarritz)
2011: Leinster (Northampton)
2012: Leinster (Ulster)
2013: Toulon (Clermont)
2014: Toulon (Saracens)
2015: Toulon (Clermont)
2016: Saracens (Racing 92)
2017: Saracens (Clermont)
The PRO14 has won the top European championship six times, and five times in the last 12 years, however, the league hasn’t tasted victory since 2012 – when both teams in the final were Pro14.
“Clubs from what is now the Guinness PRO14 contributed so much to the success of the Champions Cup last season, which was a diverse and colorful celebration of European club rugby,” said EPCR Chairman, Simon Halliday. “More than one million fans passed through the turnstiles to enjoy the compelling action live, with telling contributions from clubs across the three professional domestic leagues. There is plenty to look forward to from clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales this season on the way to our finals in Bilbao next May.”
EPCR Director General, Vincent Gaillard, said: “The format changes we have made to both of our major competitions, including meritocracy for clubs qualifying from the Guinness PRO14, are really exciting developments for the European club game. It was great to see the high quality of rugby from the clubs last season and expect more of the same outstanding rugby experiences on the road to our landmark Finals weekend in Bilbao, for which ticket sales have started very strongly.”
The revised qualification format for next season’s Champions Cup was also confirmed with the tournament winner guaranteed a place if not already qualified through its league position. In the event that the Champions Cup winner has qualified, then the Challenge Cup victors will take the 20th place.
Seven clubs from the PRO14 will qualify for the Champions Cup based on meritocracy. The three highest-ranked clubs from each conference, and the fourth-ranked club with the most match points from both conferences will all be assured of spots in the 2018/19 competition.
The journey to ultimate European glory in Bilbao begins on Thursday, 12 Octoberwhen Gloucester travel to Pau in the Challenge Cup live on Sky Sports, with Cardiff Blues the first of the PRO14 clubs in action against Lyon at Cardiff Arms Park the following evening. The Champions Cup kicks off on Friday, 13 Octoberwith the clash of Ulster and Wasps at the Kingspan Stadium live on BT Sport.
The third and last of the season launch events is scheduled for TOP 14 clubs on Wednesday at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.