The European Champions Cup has been expanded to include 24 teams and the 2020-21 Challenge Cup format has also been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) on Wednesday announced that there will be an additional four clubs in Europe's premier club competition, with home and away quarter-finals played for the first time.

There will be two pools of 12 teams - eight apiece from the Premiership, Pro14 and Top 14 - and four rounds of matches, with no teams from the same league coming up against each other in the group stage.

The changes for the competition, which ends with a final in Marseille on May 22, have been made on an exceptional basis amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis.

Fourteen clubs will compete in the Challenge Cup - six from the Top 14, four from the Premiership and four Pro14 sides - and play four rounds of matches in a single pool, again not facing teams from their own country.

There will be a round of 16 before the quarter-finals and the final will take place in Marseille on May 21.

EPCR chairman Simon Halliday said: "With an expanded knockout stage and no repeats of domestic matches during the pool stage, this format creates brand new competitive opportunities for Europe's elite clubs and their fans.

"In this time of change, the Champions Cup with its global stars of the game, its passionate supporters and its unique match-day atmosphere undoubtedly remains The One to Win."

France's Top 14 and the second tier, Pro D2, are to be abandoned for the 2019-20 season with no announcement made on whether champions will be crowned.

Meanwhile, quarter-final matches in the European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup will not be played until September at the earliest.

Both decisions have come after the French government's move to prohibit sport for the next four months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Clubs have agreed with the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) to end the Top 14 campaign to ensure next season can start on time, with the move expected to be rubber-stamped by the league's steering committee.

Prior to the abandonment of the Top 14, Bordeaux-Begles were eight points clear of Lyon at the summit as they sought a first title since 1991.

The Top 14 regular season is usually followed by play-offs to determine the eventual champions.

Three of the eight teams in the last eight of the Champions Cup play their domestic rugby in France and, similarly, three of those sides still in the Challenge Cup are Top 14 outfits.

The quarter-final ties were due to be played between April 3-5 but had already been postponed along with the semis and the two finals, which were set to be held in Marseille on May 22 and 23.

European Professional Club Rugby still intends to complete the continental competitions. 

With three rounds of action still to play, the delays are likely to impact the start of next season's Champions and Challenge Cups, which are scheduled to start in October.

The European Champions Cup semi-finals and final have been postponed by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Matches at the same stages of the Challenge Cup have also been postponed.

The EPCR Board held a conference call on Monday to discuss the move and confirmed their decision on Tuesday.

They remain committed to completing the two competitions despite the COVID-19 outbreak, which has had a devastating impact on global sporting schedules.

But the 2020 finals in Marseille will not take place on May 22 and 23 as scheduled, while the semi-finals originally due to be held across May 1, 2 and 3 will also be moved.

The April quarter-finals had already been postponed and all three of the remaining rounds will be rescheduled in collaboration with the continent's major leagues.

"In making the decision, the board is abiding by the official directives and recommendations of the relevant authorities in its territories to restrict the COVID-19 pandemic," read the EPCR statement.

"In light of the earlier postponement of its quarter-final matches and with fixtures in Europe's professional league competitions currently suspended due to the public health crisis, EPCR believes it necessary to provide as much clarity as possible to all stakeholders regarding the knockout stages of its tournaments.

"To that end, EPCR is working with the leagues and unions to restructure a conclusion to its season as part of a wider rescheduling of the remainder of the season in Europe, with all contingencies underpinned by the requirement to protect the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community.

"It is planned to reschedule the quarter-final and semi-final matches, as well as the Marseille finals, in line with fixtures in the professional league competitions, subject to advice from government and local authorities."

Fans will be entitled to a refund if they are unable to attend on the rearranged dates.

The Premiership has been suspended for five weeks and the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership Rugby's decision followed new guidance from the United Kingdom government on Monday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings and all "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

"The safety of our fans, players and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery," a Premiership Rugby statement read.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS [the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

The decision to call off the European rugby season was taken during a conference call on Monday.

It means the matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5 will not now go ahead as planned, although organisers hope to rearrange the fixtures for later dates.

In a statement, the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: "While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to complete the 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments at such a time as that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sport's governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.  

"EPCR's priority is the health and welfare of players and club staff, and an update regarding the knockout stages of the tournaments will be communicated to all stakeholders as soon as practicable."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.