Saints could be top seeds in Challenge Cup

Saints supporters will be watching Challenge Cup rugby at Franklin's Gardens next season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints supporters will be watching Challenge Cup rugby at Franklin's Gardens next season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints could be among the top seeds in this season's Challenge Cup.

The draw will take place in Lausanne on Wednesday, June 20 (start time 2pm) and Northampton will be one of 20 participants in the competition.

There will be four tiers to be drawn from, with La Rochelle, Sale Sharks and Benetton Rugby guaranteed to be in Tier 1 as they are the top ranked teams from the TOP 14, Premiership and PRO14.

Two other clubs will also be in Tier 1 and a draw will be made before the main event to determine which sides join La Rochelle, Sale and Benetton in the top set.

Two of Saints, Pau and Ospreys will be drawn into Tier 1.

The one whose name doesn't get pulled out of the pot will join Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins and Connacht in Tier 2.

Tier 2 will also include the club which is ranked fourth from the same league as the club which was not drawn into Tier 1.

Tier 3 will include the two clubs ranked fourth which are not in Tier 2, and it will also include the three clubs which are ranked fifth from each league, so that is Agen, Bristol Bears and the Dragons.

Tier 4 will include the remaining clubs from the TOP 14 and the two clubs from the Continental Shield, who are Russia's Enisei-STM and Romania's Timisoara Saracens.

Five pools, each containing four teams, will then be drawn from the four tiers.

The clubs in each pool will play each other home and away over the course of six rounds between October and January.

Participants (in order of ranking)
TOP 14
1. La Rochelle
2. Pau
3. Clermont Auvergne
4. Bordeaux Bègles
5. Agen
6. Stade Français
7. Perpignan
8. Grenoble

Premiership
1. Sale Sharks
2. Saints
3. Harlequins
4. Worcester Warriors
5. Bristol Bears

PRO14
1. Benetton Rugby
2. Ospreys
3. Connacht
4. Zebre
5. Dragons

Continental Shield
Enisei-STM
Timisoara Saracens

Eight key principles
1. The 20 clubs which have qualified on merit from the TOP 14, Gallagher Premiership Rugby, the Guinness PRO14, the PRO D2, the Greene King IPA Championship and from the Continental Shield will compete in the 2018/19 Challenge Cup in five pools of four.
2. The clubs are divided into four tiers based on the qualification positions from their respective leagues, and on the Continental Shield. A draw will be carried out in advance of the pool draw proper to complete the tiers.
3. Each of the five pools will include one club from each of the four tiers.
4. Each pool will have at least one club from the TOP 14, the Premiership and the PRO14.
5. There will be no more than two clubs from the same league in a pool.
6. No pool will contain two PRO14 clubs from the same country.
7. Clubs from the same league will be kept apart until the Tier 4 allocation.
8. A club from the Continental Shield cannot be drawn into a pool which contains two TOP 14 clubs or two Premiership clubs.

Challenge Cup schedule
Round 1: October 12/13/14, 2018
Round 2: October 19/20/21, 2018
Round 3: December 7/8/9, 2018
Round 4: December 14/15/16, 2018
Round 5: January 11/12/13, 2019
Round 6: January 18/19/20,2019
Quarter-finals: March 29/30/31, 2019
Semi-finals: April 19/20/21, 2019
Final: Friday May 11, 2019, St James’ Park, Newcastle