South Africa’s welcome pack to Europe: Understanding the Champions Cup

Dylan Coetzee
Champions Cup trophy.

European rugby has long been thrilled by the drama and unpredictability of the Champions Cup, where some of the world’s best clubs face off on the biggest stage.

The Champions Cup moves into a different phase of life this season, one where some of the most physical and brutal teams are set to join the race for European royalty. The search for club rugby immortality.

United Rugby Champions winners the Stormers, finalists the Bulls and the Sharks embark on a journey of the unknown filled with unseen venues, unseen teams and a test of their mettle, grind and big match temperament.

The journey begins this week, and as part of the build-up to a new era for Europe and for South African clubs, Planet Rugby offers a welcome pack for newbies and their fans to settle in for what will be an enthralling ride.

The first call of business is a basic understanding of the Champions Cup‘s structure, so the South African fans have some talking points around their braai this weekend.

Champions Cup

Europe and now South Africa’s elite face off in the top competition that includes 24 teams in total, with eight each from the Premiership, Top 14 and the United Rugby Championship.

The teams are separated into tiers based on what position they finished in their respective leagues the season before.

Tier one (top two ranked clubs) – Leicester Tigers, Saracens, Castres, Montpellier, Leinster and Stormers.

Tier two (third and fourth-ranked clubs) – Harlequins, Northampton Saints, Bordeaux-Begles, Toulouse, Ulster and Bulls.

Tier three (fifth and sixth-ranked clubs) – Gloucester, Sale Sharks, La Rochelle, Racing 92, Sharks and Munster.

Tier four (seventh and eighth-ranked clubs) – Exeter Chiefs, London Irish, Clermont Auvergne, Toulon, Edinburgh and Ospreys.

The clubs are split into Pool A and Pool B, with teams from the same league in the same tier unable to be put in the same pool. So, for example, Leicester Tigers and Saracens are in different pools.

Each team will play four fixtures, two home and two away, but will not play against a club in the same league as them in the group stage.

After the group stage, the knockout stage begins with the round of 16 clashes through to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and grand final.

The round of 16 clashes are determined by each team’s finishing position within their pools.

R16 (1): 1st placed in Pool A v 8th in Pool B

R16 (2): 2nd placed in Pool A v 7th in Pool B

R16 (3): 3rd placed in Pool A v 6th in Pool B

R16 (4): 4th placed in Pool A v 5th in Pool B

R16 (5): 4th placed in Pool B v 5th in Pool A

R16 (6): 3rd placed in Pool B v 6th in Pool A

R16 (7): 2nd placed in Pool B v 7th in Pool A

R16 (8): 1st placed in Pool B v 8th in Pool A


Q1: Winner R16 (1) v Winner R16 (5)

Q2: Winner R16 (7) v Winner R16 (53

Q3: Winner R16 (2) v Winner R16 (6)

Q4: Winner R16 (8) v Winner R16 (4)


SF1: Winner Q1 v Winner Q2

SF2: Winner Q3 v Winner Q4

The final will be competed between the winner of those two games and will take place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, May 30.

With the admin now completed and fans on their way to understanding how the great competition works, Planet Rugby will be bringing some engaging and intriguing content this week, preparing the rugby world for a new era.

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