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Challenge Cup: How it works

07/12/2021

Dragons kick off the 2021/22 European Challenge Cup season this Saturday when we face Perpignan at Stade Aime Giral (kick-off 5.30pm UK time).

Ahead of Round One, we take a closer look at the format of the competition this season, discover some fast facts and have the officials for Saturday’s big opener on French soil.

Fast Facts:

  • Clubs from five countries – England, France, Italy, Scotland and Wales – will compete in 2021/22 EPCR Challenge Cup in three pools of five.
  • The tournament will be played over five pool stage rounds, followed by a Round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the final at the Stade Vélodrome, Marseille on Friday 27 May 2022.
  • The three highest-ranked clubs from each Challenge Cup pool, and the highest-ranked fourth-placed club, as well as the clubs ranked nine to 11 from each of the Heineken Champions Cup pools, will qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.
  • It was decided to extend the First Registration date to Wednesday (8 December) to allow all participating clubs to supplement their squads with an unlimited number of previously unregistered players.
  • A total of 16 clubs have won the Challenge Cup since the first final in 1997: Bourgoin (1997), Colomiers (1998), ASM Clermont Auvergne (1999, 2007, 2019), Section Paloise (2000), Harlequins (2001, 2004, 2011), Sale Sharks (2002, 2005), Wasps (2003), Gloucester Rugby (2006, 2015), Bath Rugby (2008), Northampton Saints (2009, 2014), Cardiff Rugby (2010, 2018), Biarritz Olympique (2012), Leinster Rugby (2013), Montpellier Hérault Rugby (2016, 2021), Stade Francais Paris (2017), Bristol Bears (2020).
  • ASM Clermont Auvergne and Harlequins have won the most Challenge Cup titles with three apiece.
  • London Irish will be playing their 100th match in the tournament when they meet Section Paloise at the Stade du Hameau on Saturday evening.
  • Biarritz Olympique, tournament winners in 2012, are returning to European competition for the first time since the 2013/14 season.
  • Saracens will be competing in the Challenge Cup for the first time since the 2009/10 season.
  • Players who have won the Challenge Cup as members of finals’ match day squads have come from 17 different countries to date: England, France, Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Samoa, Scotland, Fiji, Argentina, Georgia, Tonga, USA, Italy, Canada and Norway.
  • Connacht Rugby have played the most tournament matches with 127 and CA Brive have made the most appearances in the knockout stage with 13.
  • Jasper Wiese of Leicester Tigers led last season’s Challenge Cup statistics in the carries, defenders beaten and offloads categories.
  • Pierre Bruno of Zebre Parma was the leading try scorer in last season’s tournament with four.

2021/22 Season Weekends:

Round 1 – 10/11/12 December

Round 2 – 17/18/19 December

Round 3 – 14/15/16 January

Round 4 – 21/22/23 January

Round 5 – 8/9/10 April

Round of 16 – 15/16/17 April

Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May

Semi-Finals – 13/14/15 May

Challenge Cup Final – Friday, May 27 – Marseille

Dragons vs Perpignan:

  • USAP and the Dragons have met twice previously in the EPCR Challenge Cup, each side claiming a home win during their pool stage encounters in 2011/12.
  • USAP have hosted the Dragons three times in European competition overall, twice in the Heineken Champions Cup (2004/05, 2007/08) and once in the EPCR Challenge Cup (2011/12), winning all three matches.
  • USAP lost each of their three home games during their last EPCR Challenge Cup campaign, in 2018/19, however they’d won 13 of their 15 pool stage games at home in the competition before that season (L2).
  • The Dragons were one of just two sides to record a 100% lineout success rate in the EPCR Challenge Cup last season, along with Harlequins, winning each of their 10 throws.
  • Jordan Williams gained 162 metres during the Dragons’ Round of 16 game against Northampton Saints in last season’s EPCR Challenge Cup, only one player recorded more metres across the gainline in a single match in 2020/21 (Tom Arscott, 174 for Newcastle Falcons v Castres Olympique).

Officials:

Referee: Christophe Ridley (Eng), Assistant Referees: Adam Leal (Eng) & Andrew Jackson (Eng), TMO: Rowan Kitt (Eng), Citing Commissioner: Chris Sharp (Eng)

Format:

The clubs were allocated into three pools of five: Pool A, Pool B and Pool C.

Pool stages consist of five rounds with each club playing four matches from the same pool. One club in each pool will have a bye in every round.

Four match points for a win, two match points for a draw. A bonus point will be awarded to a club scoring four or more tries and to a club losing by seven points or fewer.

If two or more clubs are equal on match points, their ranking will be determined as follows:

(i) the best aggregate points difference from the pool stage; or

(ii) if equal, the number of tries scored in the pool stage; or

(iii) if equal, the club with the fewest number of players suspended for disciplinary incidents in the pool stage; or

(iv) if equal, by drawing lots.

KNOCKOUT STAGES

Round of 16

The three highest-ranked clubs in Pool A, the three highest-ranked clubs in Pool B, the three highest-ranked clubs in Pool C, and the highest-ranked fourth-placed club, as well as the three clubs ranked 9 to 11 from each of the Heineken Champions Cup pools, will qualify for the Round of 16.

The ranking of the clubs which qualify for the Round of 16 will be as follows:

(i) the Challenge Cup pool winners will be ranked 1st to 3rd

(ii) the Challenge Cup pool runners-up will be ranked 4th to 6th

(iii) the two leading Challenge Cup third-placed clubs will be ranked 7th and 8th

(iv) the remaining Challenge Cup third-placed club will be ranked 15th

(v) the fourth-placed Challenge Cup club will be ranked 16th (vi) the six Heineken Champions Cup qualifiers will be ranked 9th to 14th

The Round of 16 matches, in which Challenge Cup qualifiers have home advantage, will be as follows:

  • Match 1: CC ranked 1 v CC ranked 10
  • Match 2: CC ranked 2 v CC ranked 9
  • Match 3: CC ranked 3 v HCC ranked 6
  • Match 4: CC ranked 4 v HCC ranked 5
  • Match 5: CC ranked 8 v HCC ranked 1
  • Match 6: CC ranked 7 v HCC ranked 2
  • Match 7: CC ranked 6 v HCC ranked 3
  • Match 8: CC ranked 5 v HCC ranked 4
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