The 2017/18 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season has officially launched today at the Ricoh Arena
The groundbreaking decision to move the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals weekend to a destination outside the traditional six nations for the first time is proving a big hit with fans of European club rugby as 26,000 tickets have already been sold for the showpiece matches which take place in Bilbao next May.
The strong ticket sales figure for the 53,000-capacity state-of-the-art San Mamés Stadium was announced at today's 2017/18 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season launch for Aviva Premiership clubs at the Ricoh Arena which was attended by high-profile players including England captain, Dylan Hartley, Brad Barritt and Joe Launchbury.
The revised qualification format for next season's Champions Cup was also confirmed with the tournament winner guaranteed a place if not already qualified through its league position. In the event that the Champions Cup winner has qualified, then the Challenge Cup victors will take the 20th place.
Click here for qualification rules
All seven Aviva Premiership clubs competing in the Champions Cup – holders, Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Wasps, Leicester Tigers, Bath Rugby, Harlequins and Northampton Saints - attended the launch with captains joined either by their Directors of Rugby or Head Coaches. Gloucester Rugby represented the English contingent of clubs in the Challenge Cup after finishing runners-up in last season's final in Edinburgh.
EPCR Chairman, Simon Halliday, said: "There is plenty to look forward to in this European club rugby season. In 2016/17, we enjoyed some compelling sport featuring top class rugby and more than one million people passed through the turnstiles to experience the Champions Cup live. When you look at some of the pools this season, it is clear that we will have intense battles right from the off, especially with two re-runs of last year's final in the pool stage when Clermont and Saracens go head-to-head. The Champions Cup is certainly the one to win for players, coaches and fans across Europe.”
EPCR Director General, Vincent Gaillard, said: "We are delighted with the developments in European club rugby over the past 12 months. The growth in attendances last season reflects the high-intensity, unpredictable sport, and we have further strengthened both competitions with format changes, including meritocracy for clubs qualifying from the Guinness PRO14. Ticket sales for the landmark Bilbao Finals weekend shows an undeniable appetite for expanding the footprint of European club rugby and before that, we are looking forward to creating several outstanding rugby experiences for everyone involved in the competitions.”
The journey to ultimate European glory in Bilbao begins on Thursday, 12 October when Gloucester travel to Pau in the Challenge Cup live on Sky Sports, and then the Champions Cup kicks off the following evening live on BT Sport with the clash of Ulster Rugby and Wasps at the Kingspan Stadium.
Further season launch events are scheduled for Guinness PRO14 clubs on Monday, 2 October (Convention Centre Dublin) and for TOP 14 clubs on Wednesday, 4 October (Stade Jean Bouin, Paris).