The European Rugby Challenge Cup is the 2nd tier club rugby competition in Europe. It replaced the European Challenge Cup (Amlin Cup) in 2014 and is organised by European Professional Club Rugby.
The competition came about following concerns held by English and French clubs about European club rugby and the way it was structured. These concerns were mainly around the way funds were distributed and inequities in the qualification process.
In April 2014, the EPCR announced the new competition, along with a new European Rugby Champions Cup and a new qualifying competition.
The European Rugby Challenge Cup will have 20 teams playing in 5 pools of 4 teams. They will play other teams in their pool twice, on a home and away basis. The pool winners and the 3 best runners-up will then progress to the play-offs, which will be quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final.
Qualification for the competition will be determined by the finishing position teams have in their respective league competitions.
One other team will make the Challenge Cup, depending on the results of the Champions Cup play-off matches for the last position in that competition. Teams in this play-off series will be the 7th place finishers of the Premiership and the Top 14 and the 8th and 9th place finishers from the Pro 12.
In 2014 the qualifier was determined by a play-off between the 7th placed teams from the Premiership and the Top 14. Those games were played in May 2014.
In 2015 the qualifiers was determined by a qualification competition played amongst teams from the domestic competitions of Russia, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The final stage of qualification was played between the 2 pool winners of that competition and the Romanian champions, Baia Mare and Rovigo from Italy.
In 2016 the qualifiers was determined by a qualification competition played amongst teams from the domestic competitions of Russia, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium and Italy. The final stage of qualification was played between the 2 pool winners of that competition and the two teams that had qualified the previous year, Enisei-STM from Russia and Calvisano from Italy.
In 2017 the final two qualifiers come from a play-off between the winners of the pools in the Continental Shield competition and the two qualifiers from the 2016/17 European Rugby Challenge Cup. The pool winners from the Continental Shield were Mogliano from Italy and Krasny Yar from Russia. The two teams from the Challenge Cup were Enisei-STM from Russia and Timișoara Saracens from Romania.
In 2018 the same format was used. The pool winners from the Continental Shield were Timișoara Saracens and Heidelberger RK from Germany. The Challenge Cup teams were Enisei-STM and Krasny Yar. Heidelberger RK qualified but were deemed ineligible and Timișoara Saracens took their place.
In 2019, the Continental Shield teams were Rugby Calvisano and Rovigo Delta, both from Italy. The Challenge Cup teams were Enisei-STM and Timișoara Saracens. Rugby Calvisano and Enisei-STM qualified.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues that delayed the finish of the 2019/20 season, the European Rugby Champions Cup was run on a different format for 2020/21 season.
There was a 14 team pool that had teams playing 4 rounds of pool play. Teams did not play against other teams from the same domestic competition that they qualified from.
The top 8 teams then combined with 8 teams from the European Rugby Champions Cup to play a round of 16. This was a knock-out format down to a finals series.
After 2 rounds the competition was suspended due to COVID-19.
At the end of February the EPCR announced revised a tournament format to allow for the completion of the competition. The original draw for Rounds 3 & 4 were cancelled.
There would be Round of 16 matches followed by the knock-out stages. The Round of 16 matches would be determined by a draw.
The 8 highest placed teams at the time of the suspension of play qualified for the Round of 16, joined by the 8 teams from the Champions Cup that did not make that competitions Round of 16. Teams from the same league cannot be drawn against one another. Teams which had won both pool stage matches on the pitch (that is; not COVID-19 affected results) will get home advantage.
Following the Round of 16 an open draw will be held to determine the quarter-final matches. Teams from the same league may end up playing against each other.
In 2021/2022 there were 15 teams playing in 3 pools of 5 teams each. Teams played each of the other teams in their pool once.
The top 3 teams from each pool and the best 4th placed team then combined with 6 teams from the European Rugby Champions Cup to play a round of 16. This was a knock-out format down to a finals series.
In 2022/2023 there was 20 teams playing in 2 pools of 10 teams each. Teams played each of the other teams in their pool once.
The top 6 teams from each pool then combined with 4 teams from the European Rugby Champions Cup to play a round of 16. This was then a knock-out format down to a finals series.
However, following financial problems at Wasps and Worcester Warriors, both teams were banned from the Premiership and therefore became ineligible for the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The draw was amended to make Pool B have 8 teams and the teams drawn to play the banned teams would play each other twice in the season.