EPCR has announced details of an expanded Qualifying Competition for the 2015/16 European Rugby Challenge Cup which will get underway next month and will now include clubs from Rugby Europe member Unions, Russia, Spain and Portugal alongside representatives from the Italian Eccellenza.
The enlarged competition format will now see six clubs competing in two pools of three over three rounds of matches. Each pool winner will progress to the Finals stage of the competition where they will play off over two legs against either Bucharest Wolves or Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo, who qualified for this season's European Rugby Challenge Cup.
The competition is being organised and managed by Rugby Europe in conjunction with EPCR and the FIR (Federazione Italiana Rugby) and will include European club debutants from Russia and Portugal.
Russia will be represented by Enisei-STM from Krasnoyarsk, the current champions of the country's professional league, while Portugal will be represented by their League champions, Centro Desportivo Universitário de Lisboa. The two newcomers will be joined in Pool 2 by Rugby Mogliano from the Italian Eccellenza.
Pool 1 will consist of Spanish club, El Salvador Rugby, who previously played in the Challenge Cup in 2010/11, and Italian representatives, Cammi Rugby Calvisano and Rugby Viadana, who have qualified based on their performances in the Eccellenza.
The Finals stage will see the winners of Pool 1 and 2 play off against Rovigo and Bucharest Wolves respectively over two legs, home and away, with the competition concluding on Saturday, 2 May, the weekend of the 2015 European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals.
Rugby Europe President, Octavian Morariu, said: "Rugby Europe welcomes the expansion of EPCR competitions in Europe to include for the first time clubs from two of our member Unions, Russia and Portugal, as well as the return to European action of El Salvador, the Spanish representative.
"We hope that this third EPCR competition will provide the blueprint for further expansion of European club rugby and enable both the participants and other ambitious federations in Rugby Europe membership to develop and expand a meritocratic professional structure. This is not going to change the structures of rugby in Europe overnight, but it is a first and significant step in the right direction.”
Alfredo Gavazzi, President of the FIR, said: "We're proud to have given our contribution to the organisation of the Qualifying Competition. This competition will allow three teams from our Eccellenza domestic competition to compete for a place in such a prestigious tournament as the Challenge Cup and, at the same time, will contribute to opening European club rugby to new horizons.”
Paul McNaughton, EPCR Interim Chairman, said: "The expansion of the Qualifying Competition by increasing the number of competitive games and the addition of clubs from Russia and Portugal reflects EPCR's ambition to grow the footprint of European professional club rugby in both established and emerging markets. This is another important step forward towards EPCR's vision and we are delighted to be working closely with Rugby Europe and the FIR on this competition.”
Qualifying Competition for the 2015/16 European Rugby Challenge Cup
Cammi Rugby Calvisano
El Salvador Rugby (Spain)
Universitário de Lisboa (Portugal)
Round 1: Saturday, 17 January 2015
Pool 1: Cammi Rugby Calvisano v Rugby Viadana, Peroni Stadium
Pool 2: Rugby Mogliano v Universitário de Lisboa, Stadio Maurizio Quaggia
Round 2: Saturday, 24 January 2015
Pool 1: Rugby Viadana v El Salvador Rugby, Stadio Pierluigi Zaffanella
Pool 2: Universitário de Lisboa v Enisei-STM, Lisbon venue TBC
Round 3: Saturday, 4 April 2015
Pool 1: El Salvador Rugby v Cammi Rugby Calvisano, Campo de Pepe Rojo
Pool 2: Enisei-STM v Rugby Mogliano, Sochi venue TBC
Finals stage play-offs
Saturday, 18 April 2015
Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo v Winner Pool 1, Stadio Mario Battaglini
Bucharest Wolves v Winner Pool 2, Stadium Arcul de Triumf
Saturday, 2 May 2015
Winner Pool 1 v Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo
Winner Pool 2 v Bucharest Wolves
The two victorious clubs from the finals stage will qualify for the 2015/16 European Rugby Challenge Cup.