Due to the many uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been decided that the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals will not now be held in Marseille as planned and the matches will be played at a new venue or venues.
With tens of thousands of fans scheduled to travel to the south of France, the Board of EPCR and the local organising committee have agreed that insufficient safeguards are currently in place during the public health crisis to stage two high-profile matches at the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome.
As a consequence, EPCR is currently working with its shareholder leagues and unions to secure an alternative venue or venues for the two finals which will be played on the weekend of 16/17/18 October, and details will be announced as soon as practicable.
As part of this adjustment to its future planning, EPCR is pleased to announce that Marseille will now host the 2021 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals at the Stade Vélodrome on the weekend of 21/22 May, and that the matches at the 62,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London will be rescheduled for 2022.
Tickets for this season’s finals will be valid for the 2021 weekend with no change to category or seating, and all ticket holders will be contacted by email within the next 48 hours with details of how to avail of a full refund if required.
As previously communicated, the quarter-finals of both tournaments will be played on the weekend of 18/19/20 September with the semi-finals scheduled for the weekend of 25/26/27 September. Exact dates, venues, kick-off times and TV coverage will be announced as soon as possible.
As is now customary during the pandemic, the matches will be subject to government guidelines with the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community to the fore.
2020 EPCR dates:
- Quarter-finals: weekend of 18/19/20 September
- Semi-finals: weekend of 25/26/27 September
- Heineken Champions Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
- Challenge Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
- Start of 2020/21 season: weekend of 11/12/13 December.
World Rugby to introduce contact training restrictions
World Rugby and International Rugby Players (IRP) have published new contact training load guidance aimed at reducing injury risk and supporting short and long-term player welfare. The guidance is being supported by national players’ associations, national unions, international and domestic competitions, top coaches and clubs.
Earlier this year, World Rugby unveiled a transformational six-point plan aiming to cement rugby as the most progressive sport on player welfare. These new best-practice guidelines focus on the intensity and frequency of contact training to which professional rugby players should be exposed and have been shaped by consultation with players and coaches as well as leading medical, conditioning and scientific experts.
While the incidence of training injuries is low relative to that of matches, the volume of training performed means that a relatively high proportion (35-40 per cent) of all injuries during a season occur during training, with the majority of these being soft tissue injuries. Since the training environment is highly controllable, the guidelines have been developed to reduce injury risk and cumulative contact load to the lowest possible levels that still allow for adequate player conditioning and technical preparation.
The guidelines are based on a global study undertaken by IRP of almost 600 players participating across 18 elite men’s and women’s competitions, and a comprehensive review of the latest injury data. This reveals that training patterns vary across competitions, with an average of 21 minutes per week of full contact training and an average total contact load of 118 minutes per week. A more measured and consistent approach to training will help manage the contact load for players, especially those moving between club and national training environments. The research supports minimising contact load in training, in order that players can be prepared to perform but avoid an elevated injury risk at the same time. The guidelines aim to help strike that balance.
New ‘best practice’ training contact guidelines
World Rugby and International Rugby Players’ new framework [https://www.world.rugby/the-game/player-welfare/medical/contact-load] sets out clear and acceptable contact guidelines for training sessions, aiming to further inform coaches – and players – of best practice for reducing injury risk and optimising match preparation in season. The guidance covers the whole spectrum of contact training types, considering volume, intensity, frequency and predictability of contact, as well as the optimal structure of sessions across the typical training week, including crucial recovery and rest periods.
Recommended contact training limits for the professional game are:
- Full contact training: maximum of 15 minutes per week across a maximum of two days per week with Mondays and Fridays comprising zero full contact training to allow for recovery and preparation
- Controlled contact training: maximum of 40 minutes per week
- Live set piece training: maximum of 30 minutes set piece training per week is advised
The guidelines, which also consider reducing the overall load for players of particular age, maturity and injury profile (in line with the risk factors and load guidance published in 2019), will feature in the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup player welfare standards.
Instrumented mouthguard research programme to inform effectiveness
World Rugby is partnering with elite teams to measure the ‘real life’ effect of these guidelines (in training and matches) and assess the mechanism, incidence and intensity of head impact events using the Prevent Biometics market-leading instrumented mouthguard technology and video analysis to monitor implementation and measure outcomes.
The technology, the same employed in the ground-breaking Otago Rugby Head Impact Detection Study, will deliver the biggest ever comparable bank of head impact data in the sport with more than 1,000 participants across the men’s and women’s elite, community and age-grade levels. The teams that have signed up so far are multiple Champions Cup winners Leinster, French powerhouse Clermont Auvergne and Benetton Treviso while discussions are ongoing with several other men’s and women’s teams across a range of competitions.
World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “This important body of work reflects our ambition to advance welfare for players at all levels of the game. Designed by experts, these guidelines are based on the largest study of contact training in the sport, developed by some of the best rugby, performance and medical minds in the game. We believe that by moderating overall training load on an individualised basis, including contact in season, it is possible to enhance both injury-prevention and performance outcomes, which is good for players, coaches and fans.”
World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance and former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt added: “Training has increasingly played an important role in injury-prevention as well as performance. While there is a lot less full contact training than many people might imagine, it is our hope that having a central set of guidelines will further inform players and coaches of key considerations for any contact that is done during training.
“These new guidelines, developed by leading experts and supported by the game, are by necessity a work in progress and will be monitored and further researched to understand the positive impact on player welfare. We are encouraged by the response that we have received so far.
“We recognise that community level rugby can be an almost entirely different sport in terms of fitness levels, resources and how players can be expected to train, but the guidelines can be applied at many levels, especially the planning, purpose and monitoring of any contact in training.”
International Rugby Players Chief Executive Omar Hassanein said the guidelines are being welcomed by players: “From an International Rugby Players’ perspective, this project represents a significant and very relevant piece of work relating to contact load. We’ve worked closely with our member bodies in gathering approximately 600 responses from across the globe, allowing us to have sufficient data to then be assessed by industry experts. The processing of this data has led to some quite specific recommendations which are designed to protect our players from injuries relating to excessive contact load. We will continue to work with World Rugby as we monitor the progress of these recommendations and undertake further research in this area.”
Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster, who was involved in reviewing the study and advising the development of the guidelines, said: “We have a responsibility to make the game as safe as possible for all our players. For coaches, optimising training plays a significant role in achieving that objective. It is important that we do not overdo contact load across the week in order that players are fresh, injury-free and ready for match days. These guidelines provide a practical and impactful approach to this central area of player preparation and management.”
Ireland international and IRP Head of Strategic Projects and Research Sene Naoupu said: “While this is the first step of the implementation and monitoring process, it is an incredible outcome that shows just how much players care about this area. It also provides a foundation to review and determine future direction of implementation across the game, within an evidence-based injury-prevention programme for performance and welfare.”
World Rugby is also progressing a wide-ranging study of the impact of replacements on injury risk in the sport with the University of Bath in England, a ground-breaking study into the frequency and nature of head impacts in community rugby in partnership with the Otago Rugby Union, University of Otago and New Zealand Rugby, and further research specific to the professional women’s game. All of these priority activities will inform the decisions the sport makes to advance welfare for players at all levels and stages.
Fixtures 2021/22 Season
SATURDAY 14 AUGUST
South Africa v Argentina (4.05pm, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
SATURDAY 21 AUGUST
Argentina v South Africa (4.05pm, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
WEDNESDAY 25 AUGUST
Rugby World Cup 2021 Repechage Qualifier
Kenya v Colombia (Nairobi)
SATURDAY 28 AUGUST
Australia v New Zealand (11am, Optus Stadium, Perth)
SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER
RWC 2023 Qualifying
Canada v USA (Swilers RFC, St John’s)
SATURDAY 11 SEPTEMBER
RWC 2023 Qualifier
USA v Canada (Infinity Park, Glendale)
New Zealand v Argentina (8.05am, Eden Park)
SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER
South Africa v Australia (6am, Sydney Cricket Ground)
FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER
Bristol v Saracens (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport
SATURDAY 18 SEPTEMBER
Argentina v New Zealand (8.05am, Sky Stadium)
Australia v South Africa (6am, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Leicester v Exeter (3pm) Live on BT Sport
Northampton v Gloucester (3pm)
Sale v Bath (3pm)
Worcester v London Irish (3pm)
SUNDAY 19 SEPTEMBER
Newcastle v Harlequins (3pm) Live on BT Sport
FRIDAY 24 SEPTEMBER
Gloucester v Leicester (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport
SATURDAY 25 SEPTEMBER
New Zealand v South Africa (8.05am, Forsyth Barr Stadium)
Australia v Argentina (5am, Newcastle)
Bath v Newcastle (3pm)
Exeter v Northampton (3pm)
Harlequins v Worcester (3pm)
Wasps v Bristol (3pm) Live on BT Sport
SUNDAY 26 SEPTEMBER
London Irish v Sale (3pm) Live on BT Sport
FRIDAY 1 OCTOBER
Bristol v Bath (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport
SATURDAY 2 OCTOBER
South Africa v New Zealand (8.05am, Eden Park)
Australia v Argentina (5am, GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Northampton v London Irish (2pm)
Leicester v Saracens (3pm) Live on BT Sport
Newcastle v Wasps (3pm)
Worcester v Gloucester (3pm)
SUNDAY 3 OCTOBER
Sale v Exeter (3pm) Live on BT Sport
More fixtures to follow.
Heineken Champions Cup pool draw for 2021/22
The holders, Stade Toulousain, will be up against Wasps and Cardiff Rugby in the pool stage of next season’s Heineken Champions Cup following the pool draw for the 2021/22 tournament which was held today (Wednesday 21 July) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Stade Toulousain, who completed the Heineken Champions Cup and TOP 14 double last month for the second time in the club’s history, were drawn into Pool B and will meet Wasps and Cardiff over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.
With the qualified clubs drawn into two pools of 12, reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins will have Castres Olympique and Cardiff as their opponents in Pool B when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s PRO14 winners, Leinster Rugby, are in Pool A where they will be up against Montpellier Hérault Rugby and Bath Rugby.
Stade Rochelais, runners-up in the Heineken Champions Cup final, will meet Bath and Glasgow Warriors in Pool A, while Exeter Chiefs, who lost out to Harlequins in the Premiership decider, will take on Montpellier and Glasgow in Pool A.
Munster Rugby, who were in Tier 1 as the second-ranked qualifier from the PRO14, were drawn against Castres Olympique and Wasps in Pool B.
Elsewhere, Ulster Rugby will take on ASM Clermont Auvergne and Northampton Saints in Pool A whilst Stade Français Paris were drawn into Pool B and will take on Pat Lam’s former club, Connacht Rugby, and his current charges, Bristol Bears.
For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the TOP 14, Premiership, and the PRO14 were classified into four tiers based either on their respective league rankings or on other qualification criteria.
Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.
Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.
The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.
The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.
The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures, as well as venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.
The 2021/22 tournament will be played over nine weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage. The eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of a Round of 16 on a home and away basis, quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the final in Marseille on 28 May 2022.
Today’s draw, which was live-streamed on HeinekenChampionsCup.com, was conducted by EPCR’s Head of Events and Operations, Ben Harries, and by EPCR’s Partnerships Activation Executive, Laia Gonzalez. The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.
2021/22 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
POOL A (with opponents in brackets)
Stade Rochelais (Bath Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)
Exeter Chiefs (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Glasgow Warriors)
Leinster Rugby (Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Bath Rugby)
Racing 92 (Northampton Saints, Ospreys)
Sale Sharks (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Ospreys)
Ulster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Northampton Saints)
ASM Clermont Auvergne (Sale Sharks, Ulster Rugby)
Northampton Saints (Racing 92, Ulster Rugby)
Ospreys (Racing 92, Sale Sharks)
Montpellier Hérault Rugby (Exeter Chiefs, Leinster Rugby)
Bath Rugby (Stade Rochelais, Leinster Rugby)
Glasgow Warriors (Stade Rochelais, Exeter Chiefs)
POOL B (with opponents in brackets)
Stade Toulousain (Wasps, Cardiff Rugby)
Harlequins (Castres Olympique, Cardiff Rugby)
Munster Rugby (Castres Olympique, Wasps)
Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Leicester Tigers, Scarlets)
Bristol Bears (Stade Français Paris, Scarlets)
Connacht Rugby (Stade Français Paris, Leicester Tigers)
Stade Français Paris (Bristol Bears, Connacht Rugby)
Leicester Tigers (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Connacht Rugby)
Scarlets (Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Bristol Bears)
Castres Olympique (Harlequins, Munster Rugby)
Wasps (Stade Toulousain, Munster Rugby)
Cardiff Rugby (Stade Toulousain, Harlequins)
Round 1 – 10/11/12 December
Round 2 – 17/18/19 December
Round 3 – 14/15/16 January 2022
Round 4 – 21/22/23 January 2022
Round of 16 (1st leg) – 8/9/10 April 2022
Round of 16 (2nd leg) – 15/16/17 April 2022
Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 May 2022
Semi-finals – 13/14/15 May 2022
Challenge Cup final – Friday 27 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 28 May 2022; Stade Vélodrome, Marseille