‘I’m still trying to get my head round how it actually works’ - Richard Cockerill tries to fathom out Champions Cup's new format
The capital side kick off their campaign this evening with a home match against La Rochelle. It is one of only four pool matches they will play as they seek to qualify for the knockout stages.
Cockerill is delighted to return to the elite tier of the European game but is still trying to plot a way through the convoluted set-up.
“It’s probably the biggest tournament in the world, it’s the best of the best, and we’re dining at the top table again,” he said. “We look forward to playing La Rochelle tomorrow and Sale next week.
“I’m still trying to get my head round how the pool actually works and how you qualify, but I’m sure somebody will tell me at some point. It’s just good for our guys to be playing at this level.”
The organisers describe it as a “new and dynamic format” which reduces the number of matches in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 24 clubs (the top eight from the Pro14, Top 14 and English Premiership) are divided into two pools of 12 but each will play just two other teams, home and away.
The clubs have been separated into tiers, and clubs from the same league in the same tier cannot be in the same pool. The No 1 and No 2 ranked clubs from each league were in Tier 1, the No 3 and No 4 ranked clubs in Tier 2, the No 5 and No 6 ranked clubs in Tier 3, and the No 7 and No 8 ranked clubs in Tier 4.
The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs were drawn in the same pool, as were Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs.
The four highest-ranked clubs in each pool will qualify for the quarter-finals, and the clubs ranked numbers 5 to 8 in each pool will compete in the knockout stage of the second-tier Challenge Cup.
The quarter-finals will be played on a home and away basis; the semis and the final will be one-off games, with the latter taking place in Marseille on May 22.
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