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.
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.
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 team||1st leg||Away team|
|Club (ranked) 4 – Pool B||v||Club (ranked) 1 – Pool A|
|Club 3 – Pool B||v||Club 2 – Pool A|
|Club 3 – Pool A||v||Club 2 – Pool B|
|Club 4 – Pool A||v||Club 1 – Pool B|
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 that the format removes the possibility of playing domestic fixtures in the pool stage however I’m still on the fence with the two legged quarter finals.
It is extremely convoluted and I am not sure why they cant have pools of three instead of producing a schedule that needs a masters in maths to decipher. If they are looking to attract more spectators to the tournament I don’t think producing a complicated structure is the way forward.
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.
|Round 1||11-13 December|
|Round 2||18-20 December|
|Round 3||15-17 December|
|Round 4||22-24 December|
|Champions Cup quarter finals 1st leg||2-4 April|
|Challenge Cup round of 16||2-4 April|
|Champions Cup quarter finals 2nd leg||9-11 April|
|Challenge Cup quarter finals||9-11 April|
|Champions Cup/Challenge Cup semi finals||1-2 May|
|Challenge Cup Final (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)||21 May|
|Champions Cup Final (Stade Velodrome, Marseille)||22 May|