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2020-21 ERCC Ulster Rugby

The FRU guide to 2020-21 Champions Cup

The draw for 2020-21 group stage took place in Lausanne today with Ulster having home and away fixtures against Gloucester and last season’s quarter final opponents, Toulouse.

While it’s still up in the air whether there will be supporters at the games, Ulster have two very good European away trips ahead of them.

Completely outclassed in the Stade Ernest Wallon last month, Ulster haven’t been in the same pool as Toulouse since the 2015-16 season while it’s over ten years since they last faced Gloucester in the 2007-08 season.

Speaking from a previous experience, Kingsholm is a lovely ground to visit and is easy to get to from Bristol or Cardiff. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, I’d move heaven and earth to attend both away matches.

Champions Cup format

All 24 teams were divided into four tiers prior to the draw based on their domestic league position last season.

PRO14TOP14Gallagher Prem
Tier OneUlster
Leinster
Lyon
UBB
Exeter Chiefs
Wasps
Tier TwoEdinburgh
Munster
RC Toulon
Racing 92
Bath
Bristol Bears
Tier ThreeScarlets
Connacht
La Rochelle
Clermont
Harlequins
Sale
Tier FourGlasgow
Dragons
Toulouse
Montpellier
Gloucester
Northampton

The draw splits the 24 teams into two pools. Each pool contains three teams from each tier (1 PRO14, 1 Prem, 1 TOP14). This ensures clubs from the same league and same tier cannot be drawn in the same pool together.

Once the two pools are drawn we know who will play who. Tier One sides will play Tier 4 sides in the same pool BUT not if they are in the same domestic league. Tiers two will follow the same format, only playing tier three.

Even though Glasgow is a tier four side in the same pool as Ulster, both will not face eachother in the pool stage as both play their domestic rugby in the PRO14.

Therefore, Ulster will play Toulouse and Gloucester in the pool stage of this year’s competition. I’ve taken the same table as above and itallicised teams in Pool A and underlined teams in Pool B in red.

PRO14TOP14Gallagher Prem
Tier OneUlster
Leinster
Lyon
UBB
Exeter Chiefs
Wasps
Tier TwoEdinburgh
Munster
RC Toulon
Racing 92
Bath
Bristol Bears
Tier ThreeScarlets
Connacht
La Rochelle
Clermont
Harlequins
Sale
Tier FourGlasgow
Dragons
Toulouse
Montpellier
Gloucester
Northampton
Pool A is in itallics, Pool B is underlined

Leinster will play Montpellier and Northampton, Munster will play Clermont and Harlequins and Connacht will play Racing 92 and Bristol Bears.

Teams will be ranked in their pool depending on how many match points they pick up from their four games with the top four clubs from each pool qualifying for a two-legged quarter final played on consecutive weekends. Teams ranked fifth-eighth in each pool enter the Challenge Cup round of 16.

The quarter final fixtures are as follows:

Home team1st legAway team
Club (ranked) 4 – Pool BvClub (ranked) 1 – Pool A
Club 3 – Pool BvClub 2 – Pool A
Club 3 – Pool AvClub 2 – Pool B
Club 4 – Pool AvClub 1 – Pool B
Home and away fixtures are played to ensure the ties are a two legged affair

Reaction

I don’t think EPCR have covered themselves in glory with announcing and promoting the new format, some of the graphics haven’t made sense while the press release was convoluted. On paper, I like the format as it removes the possibility of player domestic fixtures in the pool stage however I’m still on the fence with the two legged quarter finals.

Ulster have landed themselves with an unfortunate game against Toulouse. With Tier one sides expected to get an ‘easier’ draw, Ulster are unlucky as Toulouse are a tier four side as they finished 7th in the TOP14 last season. We know the quality within their ranks and their squad is good enough to be a tier one side.

Gloucester are beatable home and away however Ulster’s qualification could hinge on the home fixture against Toulouse, providing there’s no slip ups against the Cherry and Whites. Bonus points will also be a factor in determining the quarter final fixtures.

If things don’t go to plan and Ulster end up in fifth-eighth in their pool, they will move into the Challenge Cup. Most would agree that Ulster don’t have the quality to win the Champions Cup yet, however the Challenge Cup represents a great opportunity to win some silverware.

Fixture dates

Round 111-13 December
Round 218-20 December
Round 315-17 December
Round 422-24 December
Champions Cup quarter finals 1st leg2-4 April
Challenge Cup round of 162-4 April
Champions Cup quarter finals 2nd leg9-11 April
Challenge Cup quarter finals9-11 April
Champions Cup/Challenge Cup semi finals1-2 May
Challenge Cup Final (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)21 May
Champions Cup Final (Stade Velodrome, Marseille) 22 May

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