European rugby's new dawn - what's new, what's not?

Toulon will be expected to challenge once again this year - but who are you tipping for European glory?
Toulon will be expected to challenge once again this year - but who are you tipping for European glory?
©Press Association
 

Goodbye Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, hello European Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup. 

Welcome to a new era of European club rugby, but how much has really changed?

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP

Pool stages: 17th October 2014-25th January 2015

Quarter-Finals: 3rd, 4th, 5th April 2015

Semi-Finals: 17th/18th/19th April 2015

Final, Twickenham: 2nd May 2015

Fixtures: see tab below

EUROPEAN RUGBY CHALLENGE CUP

Pool stages: 17th October 2014-25th January 2015

Quarter-Finals: 3rd, 4th, 5th April 2015

Semi-Finals: 17th/18th/19th April 2015

Final, Twickenham Stoop: 1st May 2015

Fixtures: see tab below

Ahead of the start of the new European season, TalkingRugbyUnion takes you through the major changes and we take a look ahead to this year's action.

Spot The Difference

While the Heineken Cup featured 24 teams - all but one of the Pro12 outfits six from England and seven from France - the Champions Cup now splits 20 teams into five pools of four.

England and France are guaranteed six teams with their seventh highest ranked sides playing off for an additional spot. Wasps beat Stade Francais to take their place this season.

(This play-off system will be tweaked for next season, with the seventh-placed English side taking on the eighth-ranked Pro12 team for the right to play the seventh-placed French side.)

The top ranked Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh side qualify automatically as do the next three finishers in the Pro12.

This will, in theory, increase the overall standard of teams in the competition and sets up some fascinating encounters - including Saracens v Clermont Auvergne and Leicester v Ulster in the first round alone.

The remaining Pro12 teams (this year Connacht, Edinburgh, Zebre, Cardiff Blues, Dragons) join the Challenge Cup along with five teams from England (8th to 11th in the Premiership as well as the Championship winners), seven from France (8th-12th in the Top14 plus the champion and promotion playoff winner from ProD2) as well as the loser of the Champions Cup play-off - Stade Francais.

The remaining two places are awarded to qualifiers, this year Rovigo Delta (Italy) and Bucuresti Wolves (Romania) winning through, as the Challenge Cup, like the Champions Cup, features 20 sides split into five pools of four.

Like the Champions Cup, the reorganisation theoretically increases the standard of the competition with more English and French representation and in-form Pro12 outfit Connacht providing stiff challenges to traditional powerhouees such as Brive and Cardiff Blues.

In both competitions, the pool winners plus the three best second-placed teams will progress to the quarter-finals.

Keep Up To Date

You will be able to keep up to date with the action here on TalkingRugbyUnion with fixtures, results and points tables now a key feature of our European Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup sections.

Reports and images throughout the season are a staple of what you can expect from our team of writers and contributors.

It all gets underway later today when Gloucester host Brive in Pool 5 of the Challenge Cup at Kingsholm before a brace of Challenge Cup games (Newcastle v Bucuresti, Bordeaux-Begles v Edinburgh) tomorrow as well as the Champions Cup opener between Harlequins and Castres.

Watch Saracens' Billy Vunipola preview his side's clash with ASM Clermont Auvergne here and see how many changes Edinburgh have made ahead of their Challenge Cup debut against in-form Bordeaux-Begles.

Who are you picking for European glory this year? Can Northampton build on their Challenge Cup win and make an impact in the Champions Cup? Will Toulon - with or without Steffon Armitage - remain the team to beat?

 

2018-19 European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table