Heineken Champions Cup: An American’s Primer

With the Major League Rugby season yet to return, we’re giving you guides to other rugby offerings for your viewing pleasure. Next up, the Heineken Champions Cup.

Heineken Champions Cup

The Champions Cup is to European club rugby as the the Champions League is to European football. The best sides from the English Premiership, the French Top 14, and the Pro14 setup compete with each other for the title of Europe’s top rugby team. (Note: since qualification is based on the prior season’s standings, the URC teams from South Africa aren’t eligible this year.)


Pool Play

For 2021/2022, each of the three big leagues in Europe will send the eight sides with the best records in the prior season to create a 24 team field.

All qualified teams were placed into four bands to be drawn into two pools of twelve. Bands were also based on the prior year’s performance. For example:

  • Band 1: sides 1-2 in each league
  • Band 2: sides 3-4 in each league
  • Band 3: sides 5-6 in each league
  • Band 4: sides 7-8 in each league

Each of the two pools consists of four representatives from each league, with each representative coming from a different band.

Teams will play four pools games. Teams will play 2 sides from the opposite table positions in a home and away series. Teams will not play other teams from the same league in pool play. For example: an English team from band one will play the French and Pro14 teams from band four that were drawn in the same pool home and away.


Playoffs take the top eight sides from each pool. Sides 9-11 will drop into the European Challenge Cup (the second tier competition), while the bottom team in each pool will be dropped from European competition entirely.

The Round of 16 is a two legged playoff with the winner on aggregate advancing. Quarterfinals through the Final are single elimination.

Should I Watch?

Simple answer: yes.

The Champions Cup provides a different feel than domestic/provincial competition. League games are between teams that generally have similar styles due to them feeding into national teams. In the Champions Cup, teams are stylistically different. The MLR should aspire to have teams playing such different game plans.

How to Watch

Watching the games live will require a Peacock Premium subscription. However, $5 a month will get you two pool rounds each month. That’s a total of 24 games a month for $5. I’m not in any way compensated. I’m simply a fan of Peacock (and a hater of Florugby).


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