|Current season or competition:|
2020–21 European Rugby Challenge Cup
|Number of teams||14|
|Nations|| England |
|Holders||Bristol Bears (1st title) (2019–20)|
|Most titles|| Clermont |
Harlequins (3 titles)
|Related competitions|| European Rugby Champions Cup |
European Rugby Continental Shield
The European Rugby Challenge Cup is an annual European rugby union competition organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR).It is the second-tier competition for European clubs behind the European Rugby Champions Cup. From its inception in 1996 to 2014, it was known as the European Challenge Cup and governed by European Rugby Cup (ERC). Following disagreements in the structure of the tournament's format and division of revenue, the English and French leagues withdrew to form the EPCR, which organized the Challenge Cup and the Champions Cup since the 2014–15 season.
The Challenge Cup is typically contested between 20 teams; 18 qualifying from the three main European domestic leagues (Premiership Rugby, Top 14, and Pro14), and two invited teams; one from the Italian Top10 and another from the an emerging nation.
Bristol Bears are the current Challenge Cup holders, having won the 2019–20 European Rugby Challenge Cup.
20 teams will qualify for the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
18 of these teams will automatically qualify from the English Premiership, the French Top 14 and the Pro14.
Until 2019–20 the 19th and 20th teams qualified via a Qualifying Competition, organised by European Professional Club Rugby and Rugby Europe.
For the 2014–15 season, this took the form of 2 two-legged play-off matches, with the aggregate winner of each taking one of the two Rugby Europe spots in the draw, and it involved the 2 best teams from Italy's Top12, plus a Romanian and Georgian selections.
An expanded format, which was expected to feature more matches and more nations, for qualification into the 2015–16 European Rugby Challenge Cup, and subsequent seasons, was expected to be announced 15 September 2014.However, on 5 September 2014, it was announced that no such competition would take place during the 2014–15 season, and negotiations continue to create the new competition as soon as possible.
Subsequently, on 22 December 2014, EPCR announced negotiations for a new format for the competition had now been completed, and the Qualifying Competition for entry into the 2015–16 Challenge Cup would begin in January.
The expanded format includes clubs from Rugby Europe member unions Russia, Spain and Portugal alongside representatives from the Italian Eccellenza, and is being jointly organised by EPCR, Rugby Europe, and the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR).
The teams in the competition are split into two pools. Each team participates in a pool stage, before the two pool winners compete in a two-legged play-off against the teams currently competing in the Challenge Cup from the previous season.
The winners, on aggregate, of these two play-offs will take up the two final places in the Challenge Cup.
In 2017, the competition was rebranded as the European Rugby Continental Shield, and introduced a final to be held as part of the main finals weekend and contested by the two play-off winners.
For the pool stage there are five pools of four teams. The teams are ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into four tiers of five teams. Teams are then drawn from the tiers into pools at random, with the restriction that no pool shall contain two teams from the same country or league, until the allocation of Tier 4, which will contain up to 1 English team and/or up to 3 French teams, as well as the 2 Continental Shield qualifiers.
Teams will play the other three teams in the pool twice, at home and away, and match points will be awarded depending on the result of each game, with teams receiving four points for a win, and two for a draw. Teams can also earn 1 try bonus point for scoring four or more tries, and 1 losing bonus point for losing a match by seven points or fewer.
Following the completion of the pool stage, the five pool winners, and the three best pool runners-up qualify for the knock-out stage.
The eight quarter-finalists are ranked – pool winners from 1 to 5, and runners-up from 6 to 8 – based on performance in their respective pool. The four pool winners with the best pool record receive home advantage for the quarter-finals against one of the four lower-ranked teams, in a 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 format. Unlike the later formats of the old European Challenge Cup, no teams will drop down into the competition from the Champions Cup.
The winners of the quarter-finals will contest the two semi-finals, the semi-final matches will be determined by criteria, and the winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which is usually held in May.
Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic the 2020/2021 competition took on a revised format.
2020–21 European Rugby Challenge Cup
|European Challenge Cup Finals|
|1996–97||France||Bourgoin||18–9||Castres||France||Stade de la Méditerranée, Béziers||10,000|
|1997–98||France||Colomiers||43–5||Agen||France||Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse||12,500|
|1998–99||France||Montferrand||35–16||Bourgoin||France||Stade de Gerland, Lyon||31,986|
|1999–00||France||Pau||34–21||Castres||France||Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse||6,000|
|2000–01||England||Harlequins||42–33||Narbonne||France||Madejski Stadium, Reading||10,013|
|2001–02||England||Sale||25–22||Pontypridd||Wales||Kassam Stadium, Oxford||12,000|
|2002–03||England||London Wasps||48–30||Bath||England||Madejski Stadium, Reading||18,074|
|2003–04||England||Harlequins||27–26||Montferrand||France||Madejski Stadium, Reading||13,123|
|2004–05||England||Sale||27–3||Pau||France||Kassam Stadium, Oxford||7,230|
|2005–06||England||Gloucester||36–34 (aet)||London Irish||England||The Stoop, London||12,053|
|2006–07||France||Clermont||22–16||Bath||England||The Stoop, London||10,134|
|2007–08||England||Bath||24–16||Worcester Warriors||England||Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester||16,157|
|2008–09||England||Northampton Saints||15–3||Bourgoin||France||The Stoop, London||9,260|
|2009–10||Wales||Cardiff Blues||28–21||Toulon||France||Stade Vélodrome, Marseille||48,990|
|2010–11||England||Harlequins||19–18||Stade Français||France||Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff||12,236|
|2011–12||France||Biarritz||21–18||Toulon||France||The Stoop, London||9,376|
|2012–13||Ireland||Leinster||34–13||Stade Français||France||RDS Arena, Dublin||20,396|
|2013–14||England||Northampton Saints||30–16||Bath||England||Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff||12,483|
|European Rugby Challenge Cup Finals|
|2014–15||England||Gloucester||19–13||Edinburgh||Scotland||The Twickenham Stoop, London||14,316|
|2015–16||France||Montpellier||26–19||Harlequins||England||Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon||28,556|
|2016–17||France||Stade Français||25–17||Gloucester||England||Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh||24,494|
|2017–18||Wales||Cardiff Blues||31–30||Gloucester||England||San Mamés, Bilbao||32,543|
|2018–19||France||Clermont||36–16||La Rochelle||France||St James' Park, Newcastle||28,438|
|2019–20||England||Bristol Bears||32–19||Toulon||France||Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence||1,000|
|2020–21||Twickenham Stadium, London|
|2021–22||Stade de Marseille, Marseille|
|2022–23||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London|
|Club||Won||Runner-up||Years won||Years runner-up|
|Clermont||3||1||1998–99, 2006–07, 2018–19||2003–04|
|Harlequins||3||1||2000–01, 2003–04, 2010–11||2015–16|
|Gloucester||2||2||2005–06, 2014–15||2016–17, 2017–18|
|Sale Sharks||2||0||2001–02, 2004–05|
|Northampton Saints||2||0||2008–09, 2013–14|
|Cardiff Blues||2||0||2009–10, 2017–18|
|Bath||1||3||2007–08||2002–03, 2006–07, 2013–14|
|Stade Français||1||2||2016–17||2010–11, 2012–13|
|Toulon||0||3||2009–10, 2011–12, 2019–20|
European rugby competition began with the launch of the Heineken Cup in the summer of 1995.
The Challenge Cup began as the 'European Conference' (later renamed the European Shield) in 1996 with 24 teams from England, France, Italy, Romania, Scotland and Wales divided into four groups of six. All seven of the French teams made it to the quarter-finals with English club Northampton Saints filling the other berth. Predictably, the final was an all-French affair with Bourgoin beating Castres Olympique 18–9 to win the shield.
The following year's competition had an increased entry with eight groups of four teams. Colomiers continued the French dominance of the European Shield, defeating Agen 43–5 in the final.
The absence of English and Scottish clubs in 1998–99 saw the competition reduced to 21 teams divided into three groups of seven teams with representative sides of Spain and Portugal taking part. Once again, a French team was triumphant, with Montferrand beating Bourgoin 35–16 in the final held in Lyon.
With English and Scottish clubs back in the competition in 1999, there were 28 teams split in seven groups of four and London Irish and Bristol reached the semi-finals of the competition, but couldn't prevent another all-French final with Section Paloise crowned champions after a 34–21 defeat of Castres.
The competition structure remained unchanged for the 2000–01 season, although no team from Romania participated. The semi-final draw was an all-English and all-French affair to leave Harlequins and Narbonne contesting the first final on English soil. Harlequins ended French dominance of the European Shield, defeating RC Narbonne 27–26 after extra time in the final.
There was a new sponsor and a name change in 2001. The new Parker Pen Shield saw 32 teams divided into eight groups of four competing for the title. For the first time there were two Spanish club teams (Valladolid RAC and UC Madrid) and Romania was represented. Only one French club reached the quarter-finals along with five English and two from Wales and for the first time no French club reached the semi-finals after Pau lost to London Irish. For the first time, a Welsh team, Pontypridd, made it to the final but Sale Sharks emerged victorious, coming from behind to win 25–22 at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford.
The league format was abandoned in 2002 and the tournament became a knock-out competition. This involved 32 clubs from eight nations, half of them seeded and drawn against an un-seeded team on a home and away basis. The name Parker Pen Shield was now applied to a reprechage knock-out tournament for those teams that did not qualify for the second round of the Challenge Cup. The Parker Pen Challenge Cup winner now automatically qualified for the Heineken Cup. London Wasps beat Bath 48–30 to win the renamed Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadium, Reading.
In 2003–04, the Welsh Rugby Union voted to create regions to play in the Celtic League and represent Wales in European competition. Henceforce Wales entered regional sides rather than the club sides which had previously competed. With a reduction from nine professional clubs to just five, there was no Welsh entry in that year's competition. Romania also did not take part in the Challenge Cup. Harlequins won the cup with a 27–26 last-second victory over Montferrand at the Madejski Stadium to become the first side to win the tournament twice.
Sale eased to victory in the 2005 final 27–3 over a disappointing Pau side. In 2006, Gloucester edged out London Irish 36–34 after extra time.
The Parker Pen Shield was abandoned in 2005 due to restructuring of the European Challenge Cup. The competition reverted to being a league format followed by knock-out phase with five pools of four teams and home and away matches. Romanian interest returned to the competition in the form of București Rugby who had been formed to represent Romania in European competition, however, there was no representation from Spain or Portugal.
Clermont were the first French winners of the title for seven years after they beat Bath in the 2006–07 competition; Clermont also reached the Top 14 final this year after finishing poorly the previous couple of years.
Beaten 2007 finalists Bath won the 2007–08 tournament after beating fellow English club Worcester Warriors in the final in Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester. Spanish representation resumed in the 2007–08 Challenge Cup when Spanish Champions CR El Salvador took part.
Northampton Saints won the 2009 final after beating Bourgoin 15–3 at the Twickenham Stoop; that season Northampton avoided relegation, they finished 2nd in the regular season of the Guinness Premiership, reached the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and won the Anglo-Welsh Cup the next season. Northampton became the eighth English club to win the competition in 9 seasons.
The competition organiser, European Rugby Cup, announced several changes to the Challenge Cup effective in 2009–10:
Cardiff Blues benefited from the new format in its first year, winning the first ever Challenge Cup for the club and were also the first Welsh Club to win any European club tournament. Cardiff beat Toulon 28–21 in the final at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, which was also the first final to have no English involvement for 10 years.
England made a triumphant return to the final in 2011, with Harlequins defeating Stade Français 19–18. with a try in the last five-minutes by Argentinian wing, Gonzalo Camacho. This meant Harlequins became the first team to win the Challenge Cup three times and with this entered the Heineken Cup. The final was also notable in that it involved two teams that began the season in the Challenge Cup.
The 2011–12 competition was dominated by French sides, with all four semi-finalists coming from that country. Biarritz, which had parachuted in from the Heineken Cup, defeated Toulon to claim their first Challenge Cup.
The 2012–13 season again saw the Challenge Cup claimed by a team that parachuted in from the Heineken Cup. This time, the victor was Leinster, which became the first team from Ireland to win the Challenge Cup.
Northampton Saints won the last edition of the European Challenge Cup in 2014, beating Bath 30–16 in the final.
On 10 April 2014, following almost two years of negotiations, a statement was released under the aegis of European Professional Club Rugby announcing that the nine stakeholders to the new competition, the six unions and three umbrella club organisations (Premiership Rugby, Ligue Nationale de Rugby and Regional Rugby Wales), had signed Heads of Agreement for the formation of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new, third tournament, called the Qualifying Competition.On the same day, BT and Sky signed an agreement that divided coverage of the new European competitions. Both will split the pool matches, quarter-finals, and semi-finals equally, and both will broadcast the final. BT will get first choice of English Premiership club matches in the Champions Cup, with Sky receiving the same privilege for the Challenge Cup.
Following the introduction of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, organisers decided to introduce a Champions League-style sponsorship system, including 3–5 principal partners, in lieu of one title sponsor.
For Australia, Europe (unsold markets), and Southeast Asia, all matches of the EPCR package (both Champions and Challenge Cups) available on Rugby Pass.
Some games are also livestreamed for free on EPCR TV.
The European Rugby Champions Cup is an annual rugby union tournament organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the top-tier competition for clubs whose countries' national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship. Clubs qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup via their final positions in their respective national/regional leagues or via winning the second-tier Challenge Cup; those that do not qualify are instead eligible to compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
The 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup was the first season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby, and the 20th season of professional European rugby union in total. It replaced the Heineken Cup as Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs. The competition got underway on the weekend of 17 October 2014 with the first round of the pool stage, and ended with the final on 2 May 2015 at Twickenham Stadium, London, England.
The 2014–15 European Rugby Challenge Cup was the first season of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, the annual rugby union competition. It is the 19th season of second tier pan-European club competition in general, as the competition replaces the European Challenge Cup. The competition began with the first round of the group stage, on the weekend of 16 October 2014, and ended with the final on 1 May 2015 at the Twickenham Stoop.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the governing body and organiser of the two major European rugby union club tournaments: the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. A third tournament, the European Rugby Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition was introduced as a qualification competition for clubs from minor nations to enter the Challenge Cup. EPCR shared control of this tournament with Rugby Europe, the international federation for rugby union in Europe, and with the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR). The tournament was discontinued after the 2018–19 season.
The 2014–15 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage was the first stage of the 20th season of European club rugby union, and the first to be organised under the new European Rugby Champions Cup format, which replaced the Heineken Cup as the top European competition for clubs.
The 2015–16 European Rugby Champions Cup-Challenge Cup play-off was the second play-off for entry into the top level competition of European Club rugby union, the European Rugby Champions Cup.
The European Rugby Continental Shield was a rugby union competition, organised by European Professional Club Rugby, Rugby Europe and the Federazione Italiana Rugby, for entry into the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
The 2015–16 European Rugby Challenge Cup was the second edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual pan-European rugby union competition for professional clubs. It is also the 20th season of the Challenge Cup competition in all forms, following on from the now defunct European Challenge Cup. Due to the 2015 Rugby World Cup taking place during September and October 2015, the competition began slightly later than usual, with the first round of the group stage, on the weekend of 12/13/14/15 November 2015, and ended with the final on 13 May 2016 in Lyon.
The 2015–16 European Rugby Champions Cup was the second European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. The European Rugby Champions Cup replaced the Heineken Cup, which was Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs for the first nineteen years of professional European rugby union.
The 2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup was the third European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. The competition replaced the Heineken Cup, which was Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs for the first nineteen years of professional European rugby union. The opening round of the tournament took place on the weekend of 14/15/16 October 2016. The final took place on 13 May 2017 at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.
The 2016–17 European Rugby Challenge Cup was the third edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual second-tier rugby union competition for professional clubs. Clubs from six European nations plus one Russian club competed. It was also the 21st season of the Challenge Cup competition in all forms, following on from the now defunct European Challenge Cup.
The 2017–18 European Rugby Champions Cup was the fourth European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby and was the twenty-third season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.
The 2017–18 European Rugby Challenge Cup was the fourth edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual second-tier rugby union competition for professional clubs. It was also the 22nd season of the Challenge Cup competition in all forms, following on from the now defunct European Challenge Cup. Clubs from six European nations plus two Russian club will competed for the title.
The 2018–19 European Rugby Challenge Cup is the fifth edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual second-tier rugby union competition for professional clubs. Including the predecessor competition, the original European Challenge Cup, this is the 23rd edition of European club rugby's second-tier competition. Clubs from five of the nations that participate in the Six Nations Championship, along with club-sides from Romania and Russia, are competing.
The 2018–19 European Rugby Champions Cup is the fifth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in Europe. It is the 24th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition. This competition is the first to be sponsored by Heineken since the 2013–14 season.
The 2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup was the sixth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It was the 25th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.
The 2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage is the first stage of the 25th season of European club rugby union, and the sixth under the European Rugby Champions Cup format. The competition involves twenty teams, across five pools of four teams, for eight quarter-final places – awarded to the five pool winners and the three top-ranked pool runners-up. The pool stage begins on the weekend of 15-17 November 2019, and will end, following 6 rounds of games, on the weekend of 18-19 February 2020.
The 2020–21 European Rugby Challenge Cup is the seventh edition of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, an annual second-tier rugby union competition for professional clubs. Including the predecessor competition, the original European Challenge Cup, this is the 25th edition of European club rugby's second-tier competition.
The 2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup is the seventh season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It will be the 26th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.
The 2020–21 European Rugby Champions Cup pool stage is the first stage of the 26th season of European club rugby union, and the seventh under the European Rugby Champions Cup format. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the end of the previous tournament, twenty-four clubs from the three major European domestic and regional leagues would compete in the Champions Cup in a one-year exceptional basis. EPCR chief Vincent Gaillard confirmed the 24-team tournament in August 2020.