After 22 successive seasons in the European Cup, four time champions Toulouse will make their first appearance in the draw for the Challenge Cup in Neuchatel on Thursday, 8 June.
A 12th place finish in the TOP14 condemned last season’s Champions Cup quarter-finalists to a place in the Challenge Cup after 157 games in the top-tier. It means there will be two former European Cup winners (Toulouse and Brive) and two former finalists (Cardiff Blues and Stade Francais Paris) among the 20 teams in the tournament.
Joining Toulouse in making their debut will be Continental Shield runners-up Krasny Yar Rugby Club, who joined their Russian colleagues Enisei-STM in qualifying for next season’s Challenge Cup. Oyonnax and Agen, promoted to the TOP14 from PROD2 in France, will return to the tournament, while London Irish will also resume their European career having won the English Championship title.
Oyonnax spent two seasons in the Challenge Cup between 2013-2015 before earning a place in the Champions Cup in 2015/16. They were then relegated, but made an immediate return by winning the PROD2 title last season, while Agen were last in Europe in 2012/13.
The Champions Cup draw will follow the draw for the Challenge Cup, which is due to start at 13.00 UK & Irish time. Both draws will be streamed live on epcrugby.com, YouTube and the official tournament channels on Facebook.
Having just fallen short in their Champions Cup qualifying final match against Northampton Saints, Stade Francais Paris will get the chance to defend their Challenge Cup crown. Beaten finalists Gloucester Rugby, who were champions in 2015, will also be in the draw along with 2010 winners Cardiff Blues.
There are 11 teams returning from last season’s tournament (Stade Francais Paris, Brive, Pau, Lyon, Newcastle Falcons, Gloucester Rugby, Worcester Warriors, Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh Rugby, Newport Gwent Dragons, Enisei-STM) along with five teams who were in last season’s Champions Cup (Bordeaux Begles, Toulouse, Sale Sharks, Connacht Rugby, Zebre).
The teams going into the draw will be:
Stade Francais Paris, Brive, Pau, Lyon, Bordeaux Begles, Toulouse, Oyonnax, Agen
Newcastle Falcons, Gloucester Rugby, Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors, London Irish
Cardiff Blues, Connacht Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby, Newport Gwent Dragons, Zebre
Enisei-STM, Krasny Yar RC