This season’s Heineken Champions Cup final has been moved away from the planned host city of Marseille with the French Mediterranean port now set to stage the European showpiece at the end of 2020-21.
The 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals had been scheduled for May of this year until the Covid-19 outbreak forced the shutdown of rugby across Europe and the ongoing uncertainties created by the pandemic forced competition organisers European Professional Club Rugby to search for a new venue or venues for the recently rescheduled weekend of October 16-18.
A statement issued on Thursday by EPCR, of which the IRFU is a shareholder and has two board members, said: “With tens of thousands of fans scheduled to travel to the south of France, the Board of EPCR and the local organising committee have agreed that insufficient safeguards are currently in place during the public health crisis to stage two high-profile matches at the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome.
“As a consequence, EPCR is currently working with its shareholder leagues and unions to secure an alternative venue or venues for the two finals which will be played on the weekend of October 16/17/18, and details will be announced as soon as practicable.”
Marseille will not lose out on the hosting rights the city was awarded in October 2018. EPCR also on Thursday announced that Marseille will now host the 2021 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals at Stade Vélodrome on the weekend of May 21-22 with the newly rebuilt 62,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London rescheduled to host the finals in 2022.
Of the Irish provinces, both Leinster and Ulster remain in the hunt for a place in this season’s Champions Cup final with the competition resuming at the quarter-final stage on the weekend of September 18-20. Leinster have a home draw with defending champions Saracens set to visit Aviva Stadium for a rematch of the 2018-19 final while Ulster must travel to France to face Toulouse.
The semi-finals have been scheduled for the weekend of September 25-27 with exact dates, venues, kick-off times and TV coverage for the knockout rounds to be announced “as soon as possible”, EPCR said.