THE future of the Heineken Cup has been secured by the signing of a Heads of Agreement by all nine stakeholders in a minimum eight-year deal.
The newly named European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new competition, the Qualifying Competition, will form the three-tier cake and it will kick-start from next season.
Funds will be distributed equally in one/third parts to the Top 14 clubs, Premiership Rugby and the Pro12 clubs, with a guaranteed minimum distribution for the clubs from the PRO12 for the first five years.
The Champions Cup will consist of 20 clubs – six from the Top 14, six from the Premiership and seven from the Pro12, to include at least one club from each of the four competing countries – with the 20th place to be earned from a play-off between the teams finishing seventh in France and England in the first season.
From the second season (2015/2016), the eighth and ninth finishers in the Pro12 will join the seventh from France and England in the right to fight for qualification.
The 2015/2016 play-offs will take place over two dates. The seventh Top 14 club will play the eighth or ninth team in the Pro12s and the seventh Premiership club will face the other eighth or ninth PRO12 finisher; the second date is for the game between the winners.
From the 2015 season, if the previous season's European Rugby Challenge Cup winner has not already qualified through their finishing position in its league, they will participate in the play-off by taking a place given to their league.
The European Rugby Challenge Cup qualification will also contain 20 clubs, comprising 18 clubs from Top 14, Premiership Rugby and Pro12 plus two clubs from the qualifying competition organised with FIRA-AER (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur – Association Européenne de Rugby).
Both competitions will take place over nine weekends. The pool phase will be through five pools of four teams which will play each other home and away.
The five Pool winners and the three best runners-up will qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played at the home venues of the four best pool winners.
Calendar of both Competitions: The Pool phase will be played in three blocks of two weekends and will be completed by the end of January with the final to take place in the first weekend of May, at the latest.
The Qualifying Competition will compromise eight and 12 teams from tier 2 countries and Italian clubs.
European Professional Club Rugby will be set up in Switzerland to succeed the European Rugby Cup Limited as the body responsible for organising and managing the competitions.