Four representatives from the Italian Eccellenza – Pataro Rugby Calvisano, Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo, Rugby Petrarca and Rugby Viadana – will be joined by Romania’s Timisoara Saracens, RC Batumi from Georgia, Heidelberger RK of Germany and Portugal’s Centro Desportivo Universitario de Lisboa (CDUL Rugby) competing in two pools of four.

Following the pool stage matches, the winner of Pool A will play the runner-up in Pool B, and the winner of Pool B will play the runner-up in Pool A on a home and away basis.

The two clubs which advance will then play each other home and away with the winner securing a place in the Continental Shield final in Bilbao next May and also qualifying for the 2018/19 Challenge Cup.

The other Continental Shield finalist will be decided by a home and away play-off between Russia’s Enisei-STM and Krasny Yar who have both received a bye into the knockout stage of the competition due to their participation in this season’s Challenge Cup and to their success in last season’s Continental Shield.

The winner of the Enisei-STM v Krasny Yar play-offs will go through to the Continental Shield final in Bilbao and will also qualify for the 2018/19 Challenge Cup.

The aim of the Continental Shield is to widen the footprint of club rugby across Europe and to give both emerging and established clubs in different territories the opportunity to qualify for the Challenge Cup.

The Continental Shield, which was won by Enisei-STM in Edinburgh last season, is organised by EPCR in conjunction with Rugby Europe and the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR).