Challenge Cup breaks new ground

The European Rugby Challenge Cup will now include clubs from Russia, Spain and Portugal alongside representatives from the Italian Eccellenza.

The enlarged competition format of Europe's second-tier competition, which kicks off next month, will now see six clubs competing in two pools of three over three rounds of matches in an extended qualification round. Each pool winner will progress to the Finals stage of the competition where they will face off over two legs against either Bucharest Wolves or Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo. Both teams qualified for this season's European Rugby Challenge Cup via their respective leagues.

Russia will be represented by Enisei-STM from Krasnoyarsk, the current champions of the country's professional league, while Portugal will be represented by their league champions, Centro Desportivo Universitário de Lisboa. The two newcomers will be joined in Pool 2 by Rugby Mogliano from the Italian Eccellenza.

Pool 1 will consist of Spanish club, El Salvador Rugby, who previously played in the Challenge Cup in 2010/11, and Italian representatives, Cammi Rugby Calvisano and Rugby Viadana, who have qualified based on their performances in the Eccellenza.

'The expansion of the Qualifying Competition by increasing the number of competitive games and the addition of clubs from Russia and Portugal reflects EPCR's ambition to grow the footprint of European professional club rugby in both established and emerging markets,' said EPCR interim chairman Paul McNaughton.

'This is another important step forward towards EPCR's vision and we are delighted to be working closely with Rugby Europe and the FIR on this competition.'

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