The European Challenge Cup, is the 2nd tier of European club rugby, after the Heineken Cup. In 2013 it is also known as the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Teams from England, France, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain and Portugal play in the competition.
There are 20 teams playing in 5 pools of 4 teams. Pool play is on a home and away basis. The 5 pool winners are joined by 3 teams from the Heineken Cup to play quarter-finals, semi-finals anf the final. The 3 teams that 'parachute' in are the 3rd, 4th and 5th placed runners-up after pool play is completed in the Heineken Cup.
Seeding for the quarter-finals is:
The top seeds play at home in the quarter-finals. Semi-finals match locations are determined by a draw.
European Challenge Cup history
The European Challenge Cup began in 1996. It was known as the European Conference for the first 3 years.
Initially there were 24 teams involved, playing in 4 pools of 6 teams.
In 1997/98 another 8 teams took part, making a total of 32 teams. They played in 8 pools of 4 teams.
In 1998/99 no
English or Scottish teams took part so there were 21 teams playing in 3 pools
of 7 teams. Included were representative teams from Spain and Portugal. The competition name was changed to the European Shield.
In 1999/2000 there 28 teams playing in 7 pools of 4 teams.
In 2000/01 there were 31 teams playing in 7 pools of 4 teams and 1 pool of 3 teams. English teams were again involved but there were no teams from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania or Scotland.
In 2001/02 there
were 32 teams playing in 8 pools of 4 teams. Scotland were the only country not
involved and there were 2 club teams from Spain and a team from Romania. The name was again changed, this time to the European Challenge Cup. It was known as the Parker Pen Shield for sponsorship reasons.
In 2002/03 the
format was changed to a knock-out competition, with the first 2 rounds being
home and away matches. This was then followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals
and a final. The name altered to the Parker Pen Challenge Cup, again for sponsorship reasons.
In 2002, 2003 and 2004 there was a 2nd
competiton run in conjuction with the Challenge Cup. It was called the
European Shield and was played for amongst the 1st round losers from the
Challenge Cup. It was known as the Parker Pen Shield.
In 2003/04 this same format was used, with 30 teams playing. Wales had changed to regional teams and with all 5 teams playing in the Heineken Cup there were no Welsh teams in the Challenge Cup.
In 2005/06 the format was changed back to pool play. There were 5 pools of 4 teams, playing on a home and away basis. A Romanian team was formed to play in the competition but there was no teams from Spain or Portugal. The Parker Pen sponsorship had ended and the Competition was again the European Challenge Cup.
The European Shield competition was also terminated.
In 2007/08 a Spanish team was involved again.
In 2009/10 changes were made to the format. At the end of pool play only the 5 pool winners progress further. They were joined by 3 teams from The Heineken Cup, specifically the 3rd, 4th and 5th ranked runners-up from pool play in the Heineken Cup. With a new sponsorship deal, the competition was known as the Amlin Challenge Cup.
In 2010/11 the play-offs were changed so that the semi-final match locations were determined by a draw.
Qualification for the European Challenge Cup
The basic qualification criteria is:
The number of English, French, Irish and Welsh teams may vary depending on who wins the 2 European competitions and the results in the Pro 12.