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The first key step in preparation for the 2023/24 EPCR season was taken today (Wednesday 21 June) when the pool draws for the Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup were staged at the superbly-appointed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

With the tournaments moving to a tried and tested multi-pool format, fans can already anticipate a number of intriguing Champions Cup clashes between some of the world’s leading professional clubs ahead of next December’s kick-off.

Holders Stade Rochelais were drawn into what turned out to be a fiercely-competitive Pool 4 in which they will clash once again with Leinster Rugby in a repeat of last May’s compelling final. The back-to-back tournament winners will also go head-to-head with the DHL Stormers, Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers either home or away which will be determined when the pool stage fixtures are announced at a later date. Stade Français Paris were the second TOP 14 club drawn into Pool 4.

In Pool 1, Gallagher Premiership winners, Saracens, will face off against the Vodacom Bulls, Union Bordeaux-Begles, Lyon and Connacht Rugby, but adhering to the key principles of the draw, they will not meet the Bristol Bears who were also drawn into Pool 1.

Recent TOP 14 champions, Stade Toulousain, will clash with Harlequins, Bath Rugby, Ulster Rugby and Cardiff Rugby in Pool 2, and similarly the five-time tournament winners will not play against Racing 92 who also find themselves in Pool 2.

In Pool 3, URC winners, Munster Rugby, were drawn against high-quality opposition in three-time champions, RC Toulon, the 2020 winners, Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints and debutants, Aviron Bayonnais. Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors, the second URC club in Pool 3, will play against the same opponents as Munster.

The Champions Cup has two clubs from each of three leagues – TOP 14, Gallagher Premiership and United Rugby Championship (URC) – in each pool, and clubs from the URC’s Irish and South African shields were kept apart during the draw.

Tier 1 was made up of Stade Rochelais (Heineken Champions Cup winners), Stade Toulousain (TOP 14 winners), Saracens (Premiership winners) and Munster (URC winners). The remaining 20 clubs were either drawn or allocated into the four pools in keeping with the draw’s key principles.

During the pool stage, each club will play four matches against four different clubs which are not from the same league either home or away.

In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Cell C Sharks will meet Section Paloise, Oyonnax Rugby, Dragons RFC and Invitee 1 in Pool 1, while Montpellier Herault Rugby – tournament winners in 2016 and 2021 – are up against the Ospreys, Newcastle Falcons, the Emirates Lions and Benetton Rugby in Pool 2.

In Pool 3, former winners, Gloucester Rugby, will face ASM Clermont Auvergne, Castres Olympique, Edinburgh Rugby and Invitee 2.

The EPCR Challenge Cup has two TOP 14 clubs in each pool, the clubs from the URC’s South African, Welsh and Scottish-Italian shields were kept apart during the draw, as were the two Premiership clubs and the two invitees.

Clubs will play four matches against four different opponents during the pool stage with same-league matches kept to a minimum, and only impacting clubs from the URC.

The draws, which were streamed live on EPCRugby.TV, were presented by Sarra Elgan (BT Sport) and Vincent Pochulu (beIN SPORTS) with Elma Smit as the ball drawer and Jacob Webster of Bird & Bird Solicitors as the official scrutineer.

The fixture schedules for both tournaments with dates, venues, kick-off times and TV coverage will be announced as soon as possible. Fixtures will be determined using an algorithm which will take into consideration the outcome of today’s draws, league calendar restrictions, individual club calendar restrictions and broadcast requirements.

With its new formats, the 2023/24 EPCR season will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting in December, followed by a knockout stage consisting of a Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals, culminating in the London finals at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 24 and 25 May 2024.

Pool 1: Saracens, Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Vodacom Bulls, Bristol Bears, Connacht Rugby, Lyon
Pool 2: Stade Toulousain, Cardiff Rugby, Bath Rugby, Racing 92, Harlequins, Ulster Rugby
Pool 3: Munster Rugby, Aviron Bayonnais, Glasgow Warriors, Exeter Chiefs, RC Toulon, Northampton Saints
Pool 4: Stade Rochelais, Stade Français Paris, Leicester Tigers, DHL Stormers, Leinster Rugby, Sale Sharks

Pool 1 :  Invitee 1, Section Paloise, Dragons RFC, Zebre Parma, Oyonnax Rugby, Cell C Sharks
Pool 2:  Ospreys, USAP, Newcastle Falcons, Emirates Lions, Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Benetton Rugby
Pool 3:  Edinburgh Rugby, Castres Olympique, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Invitee 2, Gloucester Rugby, Scarlets

2023/24 weekends
Round 1 – 8/9/10 December 2023
Round 2 – 15/16/17 December 2023
Round 3 – 12/13/14 January 2024
Round 4 – 19/20/21 January 2024
Round of 16 – 5/6/7 April 2024
Quarter-finals – 12/13/14 April 2024
Semi-finals – 3/4/5 May 2024
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday 24 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Champions Cup final – Saturday 25 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

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