European chiefs moving closer to 24-team Champions Cup

Saracens beat Leinster to win the 2019 Champions Cup

The European Champions Cup rugby tournament could be extended to include 24 teams next season as an “exceptional” move in response to the coronavirus, organisers said Thursday.

COVID-19 has led to the suspension of the English, French and Pro14 leagues that qualify teams for the continent’s premier club rugby union competition, while knockout matches for this season’s edition of the Champions Cup have been postponed as well.

Vincent Gaillard, the chief executive of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), told us on Tuesday a “number of options were on the table”, including a reduction from the current 20 competing clubs to 18 as well as going up to 24.

But it appears expansion is the favoured model given it was the only option specifically listed in an EPCR statement released Thursday.

“Ongoing discussions with EPCR’s league and union shareholders regarding new formats have included the possibility of a 24-club Heineken Champions Cup with eight representatives from each of Europe’s leading league competitions, played over eight weekends,” the statement said.

“If adopted, any new format would apply to next season’s tournament only on an exceptional basis.”

EPCR added it hoped to conclude this season’s Champions Cup and the second-tier Challenge Cup subject to official health guidance.

Both tournaments were suspended at the quarter-finals stage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The finals were due to be held on the weekend of May 22-23 in Marseille but EPCR said they were now looking at October 16 and 17 as new dates for the matches.

That could lead to a fixture clash, however, amid speculation international matches postponed by the virus may be staged in October as well.

Concerned their voices were being ignored, English and French league chiefs wrote to World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, on Monday urging they be given a role in drawing up any revised calendar.

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