The wait is almost over for the 2022/23 European Rugby Challenge Cup campaign as 18 teams from across Europe and South Africa battle it out for the trophy.
Europe’s second-tier competition has a proud history going back to the turn of the professional era in rugby union and all sides involved will be determined to get their hands on the trophy in May.
The 18 teams have been split into two pools, with the top four teams from Pool A and Pool B progressing to the knockout stage of the competition.
Previously just for teams in Europe, the competition has expanded to teams in South Africa, with the Cheetahs and the Lions taking part this season.
What: European Rugby Challenge Cup
Where: Various, final to be played at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
When: Friday 9th December 2022 - 30th May 2023
How to watch: S4C and BT Sport
This year’s competition will kick-off on Friday 9th December with two games on the opening night coming from France.
Perpignan will host Bristol Bears, while Italian outfit Benetton head to Paris to face Stade Francais.
The final of this year’s tournament will take place on 30th May.
The competition will take place across the home grounds of all 18 clubs involved in the competition.
Bath, Bristol Bears and Newcastle Falcons will represent English interests, while Bayonne, Brive, Pau, Perpignan, Stade Francais and Toulon will be flying the flag for France.
Connacht and Glasgow Warriors will represent Ireland and Scotland respectively, with Cardiff, Dragons and Scarlets the Welsh teams.
Benetton and Zebre will be looking to do Italian rugby proud, while the Lions and the Cheetahs will be eager to take the trophy away from Europe for the first time to South Africa.
The final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup will take place at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on 30th May.
The competition will be available to watch via BT Sport across the UK and also on S4C in Wales.
Including the first 1996/97 season, there have been 26 previous European Rugby Challenge Cup campaigns.
There have been 17 different winners of the European Rugby Challenge Cup, with French outfit Bourgoin becoming the first champions in the 1996/97 season.
The first four winners of the competition came from France, with Colomiers, Clermont and Pau following in Bourgoin’s success.
Harlequins became the first English champions in 2000/01, with six other English clubs also getting their hands on the trophy.
Quins and Clermont are the clubs to have won the European Rugby Challenge Cup the most, with both sides getting their hands on the trophy on three occasions respectively.
Lyon are the reigning champions after beating Toulon 30-12 in last season’s final at the Stade de Marseille.
Having qualified for the European Rugby Champions Cup, Lyon will not be defending their title this season.
Once again the French sides will be expected to go far in this season’s competition.
Of the last eight finalists in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, six of them have been sides from France.
Stade Francais have made a strong start to the Top 14 season and will certainly be a contender for the title this term.
English representatives have done well in the past but Bath, Bristol and Newcastle find themselves all batting in the bottom four in the Gallagher Premiership table ahead of the start of the European Rugby Challenge Cup this season.