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European Challenge Cup

European Challenge Cup
[[File:Amlin Challenge Cup logo.png #REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.140px]]
Sport Rugby union
Instituted 1996
Ceased 2014
Replaced by European Rugby Challenge Cup
Number of teams 23 (20 + 3 drop from H Cup)
Nations 23x15px England
23x15px France
23x15px Ireland
23x15px Italy
23x15px Portugal
23x15px Romania
23x15px Scotland
23x15px Spain
23x15px Wales
Holders 23x15px Northampton Saints (2014)
Most titles Harlequins (3 titles)
Website Official site (Archived)

The European Challenge Cup, most recently known for sponsorship reasons as the Amlin Challenge Cup, was one of two annual rugby union competitions organised by European Rugby Cup. The cup was known as the Parker Pen Shield from 2001 to 2003 and Parker Pen Challenge Cup from 2003 to 2005 and the Amlin Challenge Cup from 2009 until the competition was succeeded by the European Rugby Challenge Cup.

The European Challenge Cup was the second-tier competition to the Heineken Cup. It was contested by teams from England, France, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Romania, and on some occasions, Spain and Portugal, on a pool, and then knock-out, basis. Because of the demise of their third professional side, Scotland's representation in the competition stopped, as the two surviving Scottish sides, Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, received automatic Heineken Cup places, but could parachute into the Challenge Cup at a later stage, if they did not progress in the Heineken Cup.


1996 to 1999 - French dominance

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 24 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 21 teams divided into three groups of seven teams with representative sides of Spain and Portugal 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.

2000 to 2006 - English Dominance

The competition structure remained unchanged for the 2000-2001 season, although no team from Romania participated. 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 32 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, Pontypridd 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 Wasps beat Bath 48–30 to win the renamed Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadium, 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 Stadium 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 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 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.

2006 to 2009 - Tournament & Club Revival

Clermont were the first French winners of the title for 7 years after they beat Bath in the 2006-07 competition, Clermont also reached the Top 14 final this year after finishing poorly the previous couple of years.

Beaten 2007 finalists Bath won the 2007-08 tournament after beating fellow English club Worcester Warriors in the final in Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester. Spanish representation resumed in the 2007-08 Challenge Cup when Spanish Champions CR El Salvador took part.

Northampton Saints won the 2009 final after beating Bourgoin 15-3 at the Twickenham Stoop, that season Northampton avoided relegation, they went on to finished 2nd in the regular season of the Guinness Premiership, reach the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and won the Anglo-Welsh Cup the next season. Northampton became the 8th English club to win the competition in 9 seasons.

2010 to 2014 - The Heineken Cup parachute

The competition organiser, European Rugby Cup, announced several changes to the Challenge Cup effective in 2009–10:[1]

  • 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. Because of the demise of their third professional side, Scotland representation stopped but now Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors may play in the competition if they finish 3rd, 4th or 5th best runners-up in the Heineken Cup.
  • 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.

Cardiff Blues benefited from the new format in its first year, winning the first ever Challenge Cup for the club and were also the first Welsh Club to win any European club tournament. Cardiff beat Toulon 28-21 in the final at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, which was also the first final to have no English involvement for 10 years.

England made a triumphant return to the final in 2011, with Harlequins defeating Stade Français 19-18. with a try in the last 5 minutes by Argentinian wing, Gonzalo Camacho. This meant Harlequins became the first team to win the Challenge Cup three times and with this entered the Heineken Cup. The final was also notable in that it involved two teams that began the season in the Challenge Cup.

The 2011–12 competition was dominated by French sides, with all four semi-finalists coming from that country. Biarritz, which had parachuted in from the Heineken Cup, defeated Toulon to claim their first Challenge Cup.

The 2012–13 season again saw the Challenge Cup claimed by a team that parachuted in from the Heineken Cup. This time, the victor was Leinster, which became the first team from Ireland to win the Challenge Cup.[2]

Shortly after the 2012 final, The Daily Telegraph reported that Premiership Rugby, organiser of the English top flight, would officially notify European Rugby Cup on 1 June of its intention to leave the accord that governs both European cups. The departure, which was expected to be mirrored by Top 14 operators Ligue nationale de rugby, would take effect following the 2013–14 season. The Premiership's desired new format, strongly opposed by the Celtic nations and Italy, is:[3]

  • The Heineken Cup would be reduced from 24 to 20 teams.
  • Six sides each would qualify to the Heineken Cup from the Premiership, Top 14, and Pro12, based on league position. The remaining two Heineken Cup places would go to the nations that win the previous season's Heineken and Challenge Cups.
  • All remaining sides from the three leagues—a total of 18—would play in the Challenge Cup, which would remain at 20 teams.
  • A completely new third-tier competition would be launched, covering emerging European rugby nations such as Romania, Georgia, Portugal, Russia and Spain. The top two teams from this competition would take up the remaining two Challenge Cup places.

The following season, English and French clubs announced the Rugby Champions Cup and Rugby Challenge Cup competitions, inviting the other nations competing in the Heineken Cup to join them. The new competition would have the format the clubs desired in the ERC run tournaments - 20 teams, equal revenue split etc. Subsequently, the FFR offered French clubs a bonus to remain in the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup, which they accepted, and subsequently withdrew from the Champions Cup. Shortly after, Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of the Welsh Regions, confirmed its support for the new competitions.[4][5]

Negotiations for a new competition agreement were ongoing until April 2014, when following months of negotiation, an accord was signed to create the European Rugby Challenge Cup as a successor to the European Challenge Cup, in time for the 2014–15 season.[6]


All top division English, French and Pro12 clubs that did not qualify for the Heineken Cup entered the European Challenge Cup. The Italian Super 10, largely a developmental competition after that country joined the then-Celtic League, sents its top four teams into the Challenge Cup. This generally resulted 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. Romania was 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 Celtic League (then sponsored as 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 received 7 berths in the 2009–10 Heineken Cup instead of its normal 6, and sent only 5 teams to start the Challenge Cup (with Gloucester later parachuting in from the Heineken Cup). France sent its regular contingent of 6 teams to the Heineken Cup and sent 8 into the Challenge Cup; no French team parachuted in from the Heineken Cup.

Going forward from 2009–10, the default number of teams from each country was 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 were made for the countries that win the Heineken and Challenge Cups. For the 2010–11 Challenge Cup, the Italian entries were the top four teams from the Super 10 that did not enter the Celtic League.


The 20 teams are five pools of four teams who played each other in home and away matches. Through the 2008–09 competition, the winners of each pool and the three best runners-up qualified for the quarter-finals. From 2009–10, only the winners of each pool qualified for the quarter-finals. The remaining three quarter-final berths went to the third-, fourth- and fifth-best runners-up from the Heineken Cup pool stage. The knockout phase was seeded as follows:[1]

  • The four best ECC pool winners were seeded 1 through 4, and will host a quarter-final.
  • The three teams parachuting in from the Heineken Cup were seeded 5 through 7, in order of their placement among the second-place teams in the pool stage of that competition.
  • The remaining ECC pool winner was the 8 seed.

Another change in 2009–10 was that the ECC adopted a semi-final draw similar to that long employed by the Heineken Cup.[1] Previously, the ECC employed a traditional eight-team bracket (1 vs 8 and 4 vs 5 in the top half, and 2 vs 7 and 3 vs 6 in the bottom half) in which the semi-finals were not reseeded.

Unlike the Heineken Cup, in which semi-finals were held at nominally neutral sites in countries determined by the semi-final draw, the ECC semi-finals are held at home grounds. In 2009–10, any semi-final that matched a team that started in the ECC with one that parachuted in from the Heineken Cup would be hosted by the team that started in the ECC. Otherwise, a draw was used to determine the home team.[1] This rule was abandoned starting with the 2010–11 season; the home teams in the semi-finals are now determined strictly by the draw.


Season Winner Score Runner-up Venue Crowd
18–9 Castres
Stade de la Méditerranée, Béziers 23x15px 10,000
43–5 Agen
Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse 23x15px 12,500
35–16 Bourgoin
Stade de Gerland, Lyon 23x15px 31,986
34–21 Castres
Stade des Sept Deniers, Toulouse 23x15px 6,000
42–33 Narbonne
Madejski Stadium, Reading 23x15px 10,013
25–22 Pontypridd
Kassam Stadium, Oxford 23x15px 12,000
London Wasps
48–30 Bath
Madejski Stadium, Reading 23x15px 18,074
27–26 Montferrand
Madejski Stadium, Reading 23x15px 13,123
27–3 Pau
Kassam Stadium, Oxford 23x15px 7,230
London Irish
The Stoop, London 23x15px 12,053
Clermont Auvergne
22–16 Bath
The Stoop, London 23x15px 10,134
24–16 Worcester Warriors
Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester 23x15px 16,157
Northampton Saints
15–3 Bourgoin
The Stoop, London 23x15px 9,260
Cardiff Blues
28–21 Toulon
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille 23x15px 48,990[7]
19–18 Stade Français
Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff 23x15px 12,236[8]
21–18 Toulon
The Stoop, London 23x15px 9,376[9]
34-13 Stade Français
RDS Arena, Dublin 23x15px [10] 20,396[11]
Northampton Saints
30-16 Bath Rugby
Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 23x15px 12,483[12]

By total wins

Ranking Country Team Domestic competition Times won Times runners-up
1 23x15px England Harlequins Aviva Premiership 3 0
2 23x15px France ASM Clermont Auvergne Top 14 2 1
3 23x15px England Northampton Saints Aviva Premiership 2 0
23x15px England Sale Sharks Aviva Premiership 2 0
5 23x15px England Bath Aviva Premiership 1 3
6 23x15px France Bourgoin Top 14 1 2
7 23x15px France Pau Top 14 1 1
8 23x15px France Biarritz Top 14 1 0
23x15px Wales Cardiff Blues RaboDirect Pro12 1 0
23x15px France Colomiers Top 14 1 0
23x15px England Gloucester Aviva Premiership 1 0
23x15px Ireland Leinster RaboDirect Pro12 1 0
23x15px England London Wasps Aviva Premiership 1 0
14 23x15px France Castres Top 14 0 2
23x15px France Stade Français Top 14 0 2
23x15px France Toulon Top 14 0 2
17 23x15px France Agen Top 14 0 1
23x15px England London Irish Aviva Premiership 0 1
23x15px France Narbonne Top 14 0 1
23x15px Wales Pontypridd Welsh Premier Division 0 1
23x15px England Worcester Warriors Aviva Premiership 0 1


Top points scorers

The all-time top points scorers over the 18 years of the competition were:[13]

Rank Player Clubs Points
1 Ludovic Mercier Beziers, Aurillac, Gloucester, Grenoble, Pau, Petrarca 520
2 Jonny Wilkinson Newcastle Falcons, Toulon 485
3 Eric Elwood Connacht 473
4 Olly Barkley Bath, Grenoble 408
5 Gérald Merceron Montferrand/Clermont Auvergne 349
6 Sébastien Fauque Pau, Castres Olympique, Dax, Montauban, Toulon, Bayonne 337
7 Charlie Hodgson Sale Sharks 313
8 David Aucagne Pau, Grenoble, Montpellier 281
9 Gareth Cull Bridgend, Ebbw Vale 280
Barry Everitt London Irish, Northampton Saints

Top try scorers

The all-time top try scorers over the 18 years of the competition were:[14]

Rank Player Clubs Tries
1 Richard Haughton Saracens, London Wasps, Perpignan 20
Tom Varndell London Wasps
3 Jean-Victor Bertrand Narbonne, Montpellier, Agen, Grenoble, 19
Sébastien Kuzbik Grenoble, Perigueux, Bordeaux-Begles, Montferrand, Montpellier
James Simpson-Daniel Gloucester
6 Nikki Walker Border Reivers, Worcester Warriors 18
7 David Bory Montferrand, Bath, Brive 17
Alexandre Bouyssie Bordeaux-Begles, Mont-de-Marsan
Mark Cueto Sale Sharks
Philippe Escale Castres Olympique, Beziers
Ben Johnston[15] Saracens, Brive

Media coverage

In Australia the European Challenge Cup was available on Setanta Sports Australia.

In Asia the European Challenge Cup was available on Setanta Sports Asia.

It was shown in the United Kingdom & Ireland on Sky Sports.

In the USA, it was shown on Fox Soccer Plus.

See also



  1. ^ a b c d "Format and qualification changes for Europe" (Press release). European Rugby Cup. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2009. 
  2. ^ "Sexton turns on style for Leinster". Irish Independent. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Mairs, Gavin (29 May 2012). "English Premiership clubs open rift with Celtic nations over Heineken Cup". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "English & French clubs to set up new competition". BBC Sport. 10 September 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Background to the European rugby dispute". BBC Sport. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Future of European Rugby resolved" (Press release). Rugby Football Union. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  7. ^ BBC Sport: Match Report
  8. ^ BBC Sport: Match Report
  9. ^ Palmer, Bryn (2012-05-18). "Amlin Challenge Cup final: Biarritz 21-18 Toulon". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2012-05-19. 
  10. ^ ERC: News (2012-05-14)
  11. ^ "Ruthless Leinster win Challenge Cup". ESPN. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  12. ^ "Saints celebrate second Amlin Challenge Cup crown". European Rugby Cup. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  13. ^ "Amlin Challenge Cup: Points Scorers". European Rugby Cup. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  14. ^ "Amlin Challenge Cup: Try Scorers". European Rugby Cup. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  15. ^ "Ben Johnston". European Rugby Cup. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 

External links