European Rugby Challenge Cup

European Rugby Challenge Cup
Current season or competition:
2016–17 European Rugby Challenge Cup
Sport Rugby union
Inaugural season 1996
Number of teams 20
Nations  England
Ireland Ireland
Holders France Montpellier (2015–16)
Most titles England Harlequins (3 titles)
Website EPCR Website
Related competitions European Rugby Champions Cup
Qualifying Competition

The European Rugby Challenge Cup is an annual European rugby union competition organised by European Professional Club Rugby. It is the second tier competition for clubs whose country's national team compete in the Six Nations Championship, as well as some teams from select other European nations. The first edition on the tournament was in 2014, after it replaced the European Challenge Cup which had run since 1996, following disagreements in the structure of the format of the tournament and division of revenue.[1]

Twenty teams qualify for the Challenge Cup, 18 from the three main European domestic leagues (English Premiership, Top 14, and Pro12), and two from a special Qualifying Competition between teams from other European nations.

Montpellier are the current Challenge Cup holders, having won the 2015–16 European Rugby Challenge Cup, while Harlequins have won the tournament a record three times, most recently in 2011.



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 Pro12.

Qualifying Competition

The 19th and 20th teams will qualify via a Qualifying Competition, organised by European Professional Club Rugby and Rugby Europe.[2]

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 will involve the 2 best teams from Italy's National Championship of Excellence, plus a Romanian and Georgian selections.[3]

An expanded format, which is 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.[4][5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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 six teams in the Qualifying Competition are split into two pools of three teams each. Each team will play the other teams in their pool once, before the two pool winners compete in a two-legged play-off against the teams currently competing in the Challenge Cup from the previous Qualifying Competition.

The winners, on aggregate, of these two play-offs will take up the Qualifying Competition places in the Challenge Cup.[7]


Group stage

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 Qualifying Competition qualifiers.[8]

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.[9]

Following the completion of the pool stage, the five pool winners, and the three best pool runners-up qualify for the knock-out stage.[2]

Knock-out stage

The eight quarter-finalists are ranked – pool winners from 1–5, and runners-up from 6–8 – 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 a draw, and the winners of the semi-finals will contest the final, which is usually held early in May.[10]


European Challenge Cup Finals
Season Country Winners Score Runners-up Country Venue Attendance
1996–97  France Bourgoin 18–9 Castres  France Stade de la Méditerranée, Béziers France 10,000
1997–98  France Colomiers 43–5 Agen  France Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse France 12,500
1998–99  France Montferrand 35–16 Bourgoin  France Stade de Gerland, Lyon France 31,986
1999–00  France Pau 34–21 Castres  France Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse France 6,000
2000–01  England Harlequins 42–33 Narbonne  France Madejski Stadium, Reading England 10,013
2001–02  England Sale 25–22 Pontypridd  Wales Kassam Stadium, Oxford England 12,000
2002–03  England London Wasps 48–30 Bath  England Madejski Stadium, Reading England 18,074
2003–04  England Harlequins 27–26 Montferrand  France Madejski Stadium, Reading England 13,123
2004–05  England Sale 27–3 Pau  France Kassam Stadium, Oxford England 7,230
2005–06  England Gloucester 36–34 (aet) London Irish  England The Stoop, London England 12,053
2006–07  France Clermont Auvergne 22–16 Bath  England The Stoop, London England 10,134
2007–08  England Bath 24–16 Worcester Warriors  England Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester England 16,157
2008–09  England Northampton Saints 15–3 Bourgoin  France The Stoop, London England 9,260
2009–10  Wales Cardiff Blues 28–21 Toulon  France Stade Vélodrome, Marseille France 48,990[11]
2010–11  England Harlequins 19–18 Stade Français  France Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff Wales 12,236[12]
2011–12  France Biarritz 21–18 Toulon  France The Stoop, London England 9,376[13]
2012–13 Ireland Ireland Leinster 34–13 Stade Français  France RDS Arena, Dublin Ireland [14] 20,396[15]
2013–14  England Northampton Saints 30–16 Bath Rugby  England Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff Wales 12,483[16]
European Rugby Challenge Cup Finals
Season Country Winners Score Runners-up Country Venue Attendance
2014–15  England Gloucester 19–13 Edinburgh  Scotland The Twickenham Stoop, London England 14,316
2015–16  France Montpellier 26–19 Harlequins  England Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon France 28,556
2016–17 Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Scotland

Wins by club

Country Team Domestic competition Times won Times runners-up
England England Harlequins Aviva Premiership 3 1
France France ASM Clermont Auvergne Top 14 2 1
England England Gloucester Aviva Premiership 2 0
England England Northampton Saints Aviva Premiership 2 0
England England Sale Sharks Aviva Premiership 2 0
England England Bath Aviva Premiership 1 3
France France Bourgoin Top 14 1 2
France France Pau Top 14 1 1
France France Biarritz Top 14 1 0
Wales Wales Cardiff Blues Pro12 1 0
France France Colomiers Top 14 1 0
Ireland Ireland Leinster Pro12 1 0
England England Wasps Aviva Premiership 1 0
France France Montpellier Top 14 1 0
France France Castres Top 14 0 2
France France Stade Français Top 14 0 2
France France Toulon Top 14 0 2
France France Agen Top 14 0 1
Scotland Scotland Edinburgh Pro12 0 1
England England London Irish Aviva Premiership 0 1
France France Narbonne Top 14 0 1
Wales Wales Pontypridd Welsh Premier Division 0 1
England England Worcester Warriors Aviva Premiership 0 1


European Challenge Cup


The Challenge Cup logo used while the tournament was sponsored by Amlin

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 holders 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 Pau 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 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 Bucureşti 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:[17]

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.[18]

Northampton Saints won the last edition of the European Challenge Cup in 2014, beating Bath 30–16 in the final.

European Rugby Challenge Cup


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.[19] 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.[20]

Sponsorship & suppliers


Following the introduction of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, organisers decided to introduce a Champions League-style sponsorship system, including 3–5 principle parters, in lieu of one title sponsor.

Principal Partners

Heineken, who had sponsored the Heineken Cup since 1995, signed on as the first partner for the Challenge Cup in 2014, and were credited as the Founding Partner of European Rugby
Announced as the second principle partner at the 2015–16 tournament launch, signing on for three seasons[21]

Secondary Sponsors


Following their appointment as an Official Supplier, Tissot began sponsoring the Match Officials kit.

Media coverage

See also


  1. "English and French clubs pull out of Heineken cup and pledge to go it alone". The Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Future of European Rugby resolved" (Press release). Rugby Football Union. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  4. Twitter @Rugby_Europe
  5. Rugby Europe Launch,
  7. 1 2 Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition Expanded
  8. Accessed 8 June 2014
  9. Rules - EPCR Website
  10. - European Rugby Statement
  11. BBC Sport: Match Report
  12. BBC Sport: Match Report
  13. Palmer, Bryn (2012-05-18). "Amlin Challenge Cup final: Biarritz 21-18 Toulon". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
  14. ERC: News (2012-05-14)
  15. "Ruthless Leinster win Challenge Cup". ESPN. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  16. "Saints celebrate second Amlin Challenge Cup crown". European Rugby Cup. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  17. "Format and qualification changes for Europe" (Press release). European Rugby Cup. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
  18. "Sexton turns on style for Leinster". Irish Independent. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  19. European Rugby Statement, The Rugby Paper 10/4/14
  20. "BT and Sky sign joint agreement over European rugby". ESPN Scrum. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  22. European Rugby Broadcast Statement, The Rugby Paper 10/4/14
  23. Droits audiovisuels des Coupes d'Europe de rugby (French)
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