Rugby Union

Harlequins to kick off the first European Rugby Champions Cup

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English Premiership side Harlequins will kick off the inaugural European Champions Cup, hosting French club Castres at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday 17 October.

This competition will replace the Heineken Cup, which ran for 19 years, following disputes with national governing bodies.

The newly-formed competition will feature 20 teams, including seven English sides, six French and a further seven from the Pro12 league, made up of Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

New season, new cup

The last Heineken Cup champions, Toulon, will start their defence of the top European prize with a home match against Welsh side Scarlets on Sunday 19.

Aviva Premiership winners Northampton Saints kick start their campaign with a trip to the French capital to face Racing Metro 92.

London Wasps will also play away for their first game against Irish side Leinster, whilst Bath fly to Scotland to face Glasgow Warriors.

Losing Heineken Cup finalists Saracens take on Clermont Auvergne - a repeat of last year’s semi-final - while Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks both face Irish opposition in  Munster and Ulster respectively.


The previous tournament was disbanded following drawn out arguments between the competition’s body, European Rugby Cup, and the clubs from England, France and Wales.

Amongst the reasons cited for the long debates and threats to form a breakaway competition were the structure of the tournament and the prize money.

The European Champions Cup now gives all participants a cash boost, with clubs having more input into the commercialisation of the competition.

The significant prize fund rise comes largely from the television rights, which have been shared between Sky Sports and BT.

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Scotland and Italy have seen their places within the tournament reduced, with this year’s campaign only featuring Glasgow Warriors and Benetton Treviso from their representative nations.

If any English side reaches the final, they will have home advantage, with Twickenham set to host the last game of this year’s competition on the May 2.

The Amlin Challenge Cup has also ceased to exist, with the European Challenge Cup now the continent’s second-tier competition.

Gloucester will begin the tournament, hosting French side Brive at Kingsholm on October 16.
The other English participants include Exeter Chiefs, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons, who will all take part along with London Welsh, after they won promotion to the Aviva Premiership.

They will all be bidding to reach the final, which will be staged at Harlequins’ ground, the Twickenham Stoop, a day before the climax of the European Champions Cup.

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