Cheslin Kolbe of Toulouse looks on during the European Champions Cup match against Gloucester at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse on 19 January 2020.
Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Cheslin Kolbe’s Toulouse and Handre Pollard’s Montpellier will feature in next season’s European Champions Cup, in changes announced by the tournament organisers on Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Cup-winning pair were set to miss out due to their clubs’ French Top 14 finishes last term, but European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said eight teams from each of the continent’s three main professional leagues will qualify for the competition.
The number of teams will be increased from 20 to 24 and will be placed in pools of 12 with each side playing two home and away matches with the top four from the groups advancing to the quarter-finals.
“We know we have time constraints, we have less time to play the season. Then there was the constraint from the leagues, who preferred to have not six, but eight teams,” EPCR chief executive Vincent Gaillard told AFP in an interview.
“It all brings in innovative things, reducing the pool phases to increase the knock-out stages,” he added.
The format will be introduced for the new term with the first set of fixtures on the weekend of 11-13 December and the final at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome on 22 May.
The Challenge Cup will feature 14 clubs – six Top 14, four English Premier League and four PRO14 – in one pool. The tournament’s final will be held on 21 May, also in Marseille.
This year’s Champions Cup and second-tier Challenge Cup quarter-finals have been rescheduled for 18-21 September due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Gaillard said authorities had given the green light for participants to cross borders despite issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“All of the governments concerned have granted exceptions for the teams to travel. Our attention moves to the health conditions for the teams,” Gaillard said.
Earlier this week the French league said if two or more Covid-19 cases are recorded at one side then their next game will be postponed but the EPCR have chosen against following suit.
“There will not be a number of cases. We lifted the limit on the number of registered players,” Gaillard said.
“That means that from the moment a club can name a team of players carrying no infection, all the while respecting the demands on the number of front-row and second-row forwards, the match can be played.
“If it can’t be played, if too many players cannot play, then the match will be void,” he concluded.