Dates set for 2015/16 European action
Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30
Connacht are one of only 16 teams left in European action this weekend but plans are already in place for next year, with the EPCR announcing its key dates for the 2015/16 season.
Connacht take on Gloucester this evening in the Challenge Cup quarter-final but their main goal all season has been to finish at least sixth in the Pro12 and qualify for next season's Champions Cup. That begins in mid-November, just two weeks after the World Cup final.
The top-tier European tournament will use its usual dates during December and January, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals taking place in April 2016, and the final set for the weekend of May 13/14.
On merit, 19 clubs qualify from the Guinness Pro12, Aviva Premiership and French Top 14 - this year there will be play-offs to see who gets the 20th and final spot.
These contain one team from each of the three leagues but next season there will be no play-offs, with the Challenge Cup winners going directly into the Champions Cup.
The following year a second team from the Pro12 is added to the play-offs so four teams will be vying to qualify for the Champions Cup.
This year the play-offs are made up of the seventh-ranked teams in the Premiership and Top 14 (currently Sale and Montpellier), with the highest-ranked Pro12 club that have not qualified for the Champions Cup (currently Edinburgh).
If a club from the Premiership wins the Challenge Cup this year they automatically take the English play-off spot. From next season onwards this will also apply to the Top 14 and Pro12 sides (the second Pro12 spot will go the winner).
Gloucester fall to big defeat
Gloucester fell to a 23-6 loss away to Sale Sharks on Sunday in their final game before tonight's Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Connacht.
David Humphreys' men never really got on top in their efforts to get a boost at AJ Bell Stadium ahead of this evening's game at Kingsholm.
Sale had lost their last two games but were always in control and even held Gloucester at bay when they had Danny Cipriani and Nathan Hines in the bin.
James Hook slotted an early penalty for Gloucester but Johnny Leota got over for Sale's opening try after 21 minutes which helped them lead 10-6 at the break.
Gloucester did not score in the second half despite enjoying plenty of possession.
Cipriani put further daylight between the sides with a couple of penalties.
Sale wrapped up the win 12 minutes from time when No 8 Josh Beaumont - son of England legend Bill - got their second try.
The loss leaves Gloucester ninth in the Premiership - indeed, three of England's four quarter-finalists in the Challenge Cup are in the bottom four positions in their own league.
However, Gloucester are safe from relegation as London Welsh's fate was confirmed last weekend with a defeat at Bath.
Welsh have lost all 18 matches this season and have managed to pick up just one bonus point throughout a torrid campaign.