PRO14 Rugby will introduce an exciting change to its Champions Cup qualification process that will see the 7th ranked team decided by a Play-Off match that will form part of the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.
This fresh addition to the Championship has been warmly welcomed by the Guinness PRO14 clubs and will see the two fourth-placed teams from each Conference face off in a winner-takes-all clash to qualify for the Champions Cup.
The fixture will take place on the first weekend of May and home advantage will be awarded to the team who has finished the regular season with the highest match-points total. This move is designed to ensure competitive balance between both Conferences in order to award the final Champions Cup qualification place.
The first six places from the Guinness PRO14 will automatically be claimed by the teams who finish in the top three of each Conference. The South African teams remain ineligible to qualify for EPCR tournaments, so should a South African team finish in either the top three or in fourth place they will be replaced by the team that finished below them in that Conference.
Martin Anayi, CEO of the PRO14 Rugby, said: “By the time May rolls around our fans are going to be the big winners thanks to the enlarged Guinness PRO14 Final Series which will see six teams battle for the Championship title and another two going at it to qualify for the Champions Cup. That’s double the number of teams who now have something to play for after the regular season ends which is a great result for the clubs, their fans and the tournament.
“We are committed to raising the standards of our Championship and the introduction of the Champions Cup Play-Off brings a dynamic element to European qualification. After careful consultation with our clubs we strongly believe that this is best solution for the Guinness PRO14.
“The new Championship format is off to a fantastic start and it’s so important to us that no matter which Conference a club is in, eligible teams have an equal opportunity to qualify for the Champions Cup. By pitting the two fourth-placed teams against each other we’re creating a fair fight and giving fans a Cup final style occasion that they can relish.”
News of the Play-Off game has been well received from coaches within the Guinness PRO14.
Dragons Head Coach, Bernard Jackman, said: “Having a Play-Off game for the final Champions Cup spot is a really exciting new element for the Guinness PRO14. There will be teams battling to reach the top three or finish in a Play-Off place and that means that the competition will go right down to the wire for everyone.
“Every team has to finish as strongly as possible and if we can improve as the season progresses we would hope to be there or thereabouts to take advantage of the opportunity. The Play-Off fixture itself will be a massive occasion for players to test themselves in a Cup final atmosphere, it will get supporters pumped up and it’s a fantastic stage for a team to prove that they deserve to be playing in the Champions Cup.”
Benetton Rugby Head Coach, Kieran Crowley, said: “This addition to the Guinness PRO14 brings an objective to those teams that are in that position and some real meaning to a ‘Play-Off’ game with a fantastic reward to compete for. If we find ourselves in that position we will certainly be very excited about it and be determined to achieve a positive result and qualify for the Champions Cup on merit.”
Key Figures from the Guinness PRO12 European performances in 2016/17:
- 131 tries scored – Highest in tournament and Highest total by PRO12/Celtic League clubs since 2005/06 (9 teams)
- Glasgow Warriors reached Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history
- Leinster Rugby ranked No 1 overall in attack – 227 points & 31 tries
- Munster Rugby ranked No 1 overall in defence – 64 points & 4 tries
- Glasgow Warriors ranked No 2 overall in defence – 86 points & 10 tries
- Leinster Rugby ranked joint No 3 in overall defence – 87 points & 10 tries
- First time three Guinness PRO12 clubs have reached quarter-finals in new Champions Cup format
- Record v non-PRO12 clubs: 17 Wins; 2 Draws; 15 Losses
- Ospreys Rugby won all six pool games with bonus points – first club to ever achieve maximum of 30 points in Pool stages in any European tournament
- Ospreys Rugby ranked No 1 overall in attack – 279 points & 42 tries
- Ospreys Rugby ranked No 1 overall in defence – 51 points & 7 tries
- Edinburgh Rugby reach Quarter-Finals for the second time in three years
- Cardiff Blues reach Quarter-Finals for the second time in three years
- Only the third time that three or more clubs from the Guinness PRO12/Celtic League have qualified for the Quarter-Finals since 2002
- Record v non-PRO12 clubs: 21 Wins; 9 Losses
- Total tries scored by Guinness PRO12 clubs in EPCR Pool stages: 247
- Record v non-PRO12 clubs: 38 Wins, 2 Draws, 24 Losses
- Six Quarter-Finalists equals previous records from 2010 & 2012
- Four of eight Quarter-Finals will be hosted by Guinness PRO12 clubs
- First time that four PRO12 clubs have qualified as Pool winners across both tournaments