Ulster May Not Need A Play-Off To Qualify For The Champions Cup
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Champions Cup rugby awaits…
Ulster Rugby have finished fourth in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, after the regular season came to a close this past weekend.
The northern province needed a bonus-point win over Munster, along with an Edinburgh slip up in order to overtake the Scottish side in third, and secure an automatic Champions Cup and play-off spot.
But their draw, couple with Edinburgh’s win, means Ulster’s season is now over. But all is not lost. While it looks likely they will have to take on Ospreys in a play-off match for Champions Cup qualification – it’s still possible that they could qualify automatically.
Champions Cup qualification
Nineteen clubs will qualify automatically for the 2018/19 Champions Cup in the following ways:
Guinness PRO14 (7): The three highest ranked clubs from each conference. The fourth-ranked clubs from each conference will play off for the seventh place (Note: South African clubs are not eligible)
TOP 14 (6): The six highest-ranked clubs based on their final finishing positions.
Aviva Premiership (6): The six highest-ranked clubs based on their final finishing positions.
The 20th place in the Champions Cup will be determined as follows:
i) Champions Cup winner, if not already qualified
ii) Challenge Cup winner, if not already qualified
iii) Challenge Cup losing finalist, if not already qualified
iv) Play-off match between the losing Challenge Cup semi-finalists, if not already qualified
v) Highest ranked non-qualified club by virtue of league position from the same league as the Champions Cup winner
How does this affect Ulster?
The most likely scenario at this stage is that Ulster would have to play Ospreys in a play-off match for the 7th PRO14 place in the competition. This would be played at Kingspan Stadium on the weekend of 18-20th May.
However, there is a possibility that Ulster could qualify for the Champions Cup without having to play the play-off match, based on the criteria outlined above.
For this to happen, Ulster would need PRO14 Rugby to earn an eighth spot in the Champions Cup. This is possible if Leinster win the Champions Cup and all of the Challenge Cup semi-finalists qualify for the Champions Cup on merit by finishing in the top six of their respective leagues.
Cardiff and Newcastle have already qualified, while Gloucester currently occupy sixth place in the Aviva Premiership and Pau sit in seventh in the TOP 14. Gloucester travel to Saracens next week and Pau host Toulon.
Were PRO14 Rugby to have an eighth place, Benetton Rugby would play Ospreys in a play-off match.