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The European Challenge Cup in rugby union, known as the Parker Pen Shield from 2001 to 2003 and Parker Pen Challenge Cup from 2003 to 2005, is the junior competition to the Heineken Cup. It is contested by teams from Englandmarker, Francemarker, Walesmarker, Irelandmarker, Italymarker, Romaniamarker, and on some occasions, Spain and Portugal, on a pool, and then knock-out, basis. Because of the demise of their third professional side, Scotlandmarker is not represented. The current holders are English club Northampton, who defeated the French side Bourgoin 15-3 in 2009.

From the 2009-2010 season, the Challenge Cup will be known for sponsorship reasons as the Amlin Challenge Cup.

History

French dominance 1996-1999

European rugby competition began with the launch of the Heineken Cup in the summer of 1995

The Challenge Cup began as the 'European Conference' (later renamed the European Shield) in 1996 with twenty-four teams from England, France, Italy, Romania, Scotland and Wales divided into four groups of six. All seven of the French teams made it to the quarter-finals with English club Northampton Saints filling the other berth. Predictably, the final was an all-French affair with Bourgoin beating Castres Olympique 18-9 to win the shield.

The following year's competition had an increased entry with eight groups of four teams. Colomiers continued the French dominance of the European Shield, defeating Agen 43-5 in the final.

The absence of English and Scottish clubs in 1998/99 saw the competition reduced to twenty-one teams divided into three groups of seven teams with representative sides of Spainmarker and Portugalmarker taking part. Once again, a French team was triumphant, with Montferrand beating holders Bourgoin 35-16 in the final held in Lyon.

With English and Scottish clubs back in the competition in 1999, there were 28 teams split in seven groups of four and London Irish and Bristol reached the semi-finals of the competition, but couldn't prevent another all-French final with Pau crowned champions after a 34-21 defeat of Castres.

A new era: 2000-present

In 2000 for once there was no change in format, but the competition was without any teams from Romania. The semi-final draw was an all-English and all-French affair to leave Harlequins and Narbonne contesting the first final on English soil. Harlequins ended French dominance of the European Shield, defeating RC Narbonne 27-26 after extra time in the final.

There was a new sponsor and a name change in 2001. The new 'Parker Pen Shield' saw thirty-two teams divided into eight groups of four competing for the title. For the first time there were two Spanish club teams and Romania was represented. Only one French club reached the quarter-finals along with five English and two from Wales and for the first time no French club reached the semi-finals after Pau lost to London Irish. For the first time a Welsh team, Pontypriddmarker made it to the final but Sale Sharks emerged victorious, coming from behind to win 25-22 at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford.

The league format was abandoned in 2002 and the tournament became a knock-out competition. This involved 32 clubs from eight nations, half of them seeded and drawn against an un-seeded team on a home and away basis. The name Parker Pen Shield was now applied to a reprechage knock-out tournament for those teams that did not qualify for the second round of the Challenge Cup. The Parker Pen Challenge Cup winner now automatically qualified for the Heineken Cup. London Waspsmarker beat Bath 48-30 to win the renamed Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadiummarker, Reading.

In 2003/04 the Welsh Rugby Union voted to create regions to play in the Celtic League and represent Wales in European competition. Henceforce Wales entered regional sides rather than the club sides which had previously competed. With a reduction from nine professional clubs to just five, there was no Welsh entry in that year's competition. Romania also did not take part in the Challenge Cup. Harlequins won the cup with a 27-26 last-second victory over Montferrand at the Madejski Stadiummarker to become the first side to win the tournament twice.

Sale eased to victory in the 2005 final 27-3 over a disappointing Pau side. In 2006, the tournament witnessed its closest final to date, when Gloucester edged out London Irish 36-34 after extra time.

The Parker Pen Shield was abandoned in 2005 due to restructuring of the European Challenge Cup. The competition reverted back to being a league format followed by knock-out phase with five pools of four teams and home and away matches. Romanian interest returned to the competition in the form of Bucureşti Rugby who had been formed to represent Romania in European competition, however there was no representation from Spain or Portugal.

The European Challenge Cup is, generally speaking, the equivalent competition of the UEFA Europa League in professional football, whereas the Heineken Cup in the equivalent to the higher level UEFA Champions League.

Changes for 2009–10

The competition organiser, European Rugby Cup, announced several changes to the Challenge Cup effective in 2009–10:
  • Only the five pool winners will qualify for the knockout stage of the competition. They will be joined by three clubs that parachute in from the pool stage of the Heineken Cup, specifically the third- through fifth-highest ranked second-place teams from pool play
  • The European Challenge Cup winner will continue to receive an automatic berth in the following season's Heineken Cup; for the first time, this place will not come at the expense of its country's allocation. The only exception to this new rule will occur when England or France produces the winners of both the Heineken Cup and ECC in the same season. Both countries are capped at seven Heineken Cup places; in that scenario, the Heineken and ECC winners remain in the Heineken Cup while a berth is granted to the top club in the ERC rankings from another country that has not already qualified for the Heineken Cup


Future

It is also hoped that VVA-Podmoskovye Monino the 'Russian Air Academy' from the Russian Professional Rugby League will be able to enter a team into the competition in either 2009 or 2010.

With the move torwards professionalising rugby union in Germany, led by the SC 1880 Frankfurt, it is hoped that the Wild Rugby Academy in Heidelbergmarker will be able to field a German team in the competition in the near future. The academy hopes to be able to field a team under the name of Wild Titans by 2010.

It's been suggested that Portugal will enter the competition in the future with a team made up from the top sides in the country, in a similar way to Bucureşti Oaks, from Romaniamarker.

Qualification

Diagram showing how qualification is obtained for Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup.


All top division English, French and Magners League clubs that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup enter the European Challenge Cup. This generally results in either 7 or 8 French clubs, 5 or 6 English clubs, and 4 Italian clubs, with one each from Ireland and Romania and one from either Spain or Portugal. Romaniamarker is represented by Bucureşti Rugby who are specially formed for this competition.

Through the 2009–10 competition, the number of French and English clubs depended on the results of the previous year's Heineken Cup. Under the former rules of that competition, one extra Heineken Cup berth was awarded to England, France, or Italy, based on which country's club advanced the farthest in the previous season's competition. In the time that this rule existed, an English or French club always claimed the extra berth. For example:
  • In the 2007–08 Heineken Cup, Toulouse of France advanced to the final, where they were defeated by Munster of the Magners League. As a result, France had 7 berths in the 2008–09 Heineken Cup instead of its normal 6, and 7 in that season's Challenge Cup. England therefore sent 6 teams to both competitions.
  • The 2008–09 Heineken Cup saw Leicester Tigers of England lose in the final to the Magners League's Leinster. As a result, England will receive 7 berths in the 2009–10 Heineken Cup instead of its normal 6, and will send only 5 teams to the Challenge Cup. France will send its regular contingent of 6 teams to the Heineken Cup and send 8 into the Challenge Cup.


Going forward from 2009–10, the default number of teams from each country will be 8 from France, 6 from England, and 4 from Italy, with one each from Ireland, Romania and Wales, and one from either Spain or Portugal. Subtractions are made for the countries that win the Heineken and Challenge Cups. Further changes may occur in 2010–11 if the current plans of the Magners League to add two Italian teams go through.

Format

The 20 teams are five pools of four teams who play each other home and away matches. The winners of each pool and the three best runners up qualify for the quarter-finals. The semi-finals are one-off matches played at home venues and the final at a neutral venue.

From the 2009/10 season, runners-up from ECC pools will not qualify for the quarter-finals. Instead, the third-, fourth- and fifth-best runners up from the Heineken Cup pools enter the ECC quarter-finals, playing the fourth-, third- and second-best ECC pool winners respectively, with the ECC teams having home advantage. The best placed ECC pool-winner plays the fifth-best pool winner at home. The semi-finals will no longer be neutral; instead, ECC teams will have home advantage, or a draw made if this is not sufficient to decide.

Finals

Season Winner Score Runner-up Venue Crowd
1996-97

Details
Bourgoin

18-9 Castres

Stade de la Méditerranéemarker, Béziersmarker 10,000
1997-98

Details
Colomiers

43-5 Agen

Stade des Sept Deniersmarker, Toulousemarker 12,500
1998-99

Details
Montferrand

35-16 Bourgoin

Stade de Gerlandmarker, Lyonmarker 31,986
1999-00

Details
Pau

34-21 Castres

Stade des Sept Deniersmarker, Toulousemarker 6,000
2000-01

Details
NEC Harlequins

42-33 Narbonne

Madejski Stadiummarker, Readingmarker 10,013
2001-02

Details
Sale

25-22 Pontypriddmarker

Kassam Stadiummarker, Oxfordmarker 12,000
2002-03

Details
London Waspsmarker

48-30 Bath

Madejski Stadiummarker, Readingmarker 18,074
2003-04

Details
NEC Harlequins

27-26 Montferrand

Madejski Stadiummarker, Readingmarker 13,123
2004-05

Details
Sale

27-3 Pau

Kassam Stadiummarker, Oxfordmarker 7,230
2005-06

Details
Gloucester

36-34

(aet)
London Irish

The Stoopmarker, Londonmarker 12,053
2006-07

Details
Clermont Auvergne

22-16 Bath

The Stoopmarker, Londonmarker 10,134
2007-08

Details
Bath

24-16 Worcester Warriors

Kingsholm Stadiummarker, Gloucestermarker 16,157
2008-09

Details
Northampton Saints

15-3 Bourgoin

The Stoopmarker, Londonmarker 9,260


By total wins

Ranking Country Team Country specific

competition
Times won Times runners-up
1

Francemarker
ASM Clermont Auvergne Top 14 2 1
2

Englandmarker
Harlequins Guinness Premiership 2 0


Englandmarker
Sale Sharks Guinness Premiership 2 0
4

Englandmarker
Bath Guinness Premiership 1 2


Francemarker
Bourgoin Top 14 1 2


Francemarker
Pau Top 14 1 1
7

Francemarker
Colomiers Top 14 1 0


Englandmarker
London Waspsmarker Guinness Premiership 1 0


Englandmarker
Gloucester Guinness Premiership 1 0


Englandmarker
Northampton Saints Guinness Premiership 1 0


Francemarker
Castres Top 14 0 2
12

Englandmarker
London Irish Guinness Premiership 0 1


Francemarker
Narbonne Top 14 0 1


Walesmarker
Pontypriddmarker Welsh Premier Division 0 1


Englandmarker
Worcester Warriors Guinness Premiership 0 1


Media coverage

In Australia the European Challenge Cup is currently available on Setanta Sports Australia.

See also



Sources



External links



References


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