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Ulster set to learn European opponents in today's pool draw

By Adam McKendry

As well as the Europa League qualifying draw taking place today, Ulster Rugby will learn their Heineken Champions Cup opponents today too.

Not sure what's going on? Here's all you need to know!

When is the draw?

Today at 2pm UK time.

The second-tier Challenge Cup draw will be held first, with the Champions Cup being drawn at around 2:20pm.

Where is it being held?

At the headquarters of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

How will it work?

The teams are separated into four tiers of five teams, based on where they finished in their respective leagues last season - the Guinness PRO14 (Celtic nations), the Aviva Premiership (England) and the Top 14 (France).

So, for instance, the three teams that won each league - Leinster, Saracens and Castres Olympique - are in tier one, while the sixth-placed finishers are in tier four.

The five teams from each tier will be drawn one tier at a time and will be placed in a pool, which will be drawn from another pot.

But wait, there are five teams in each tier and there are three leagues...

Correct.

So because there are three leagues, you can't place all three second-placed league finishers into tier one as that would mean there are six teams for five spaces.

What will happen first is there will be a draw to determine which two second-placed finishers are placed into tier one. The team that is not drawn out at this stage will go into tier two.

Depending on which team drops into tier two will also impact on which fourth-placed finisher also goes into tier two, as they will be in the same league. For example, if the Scarlets from the PRO14 drop into tier two, then Munster will join them in that tier.

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Going down: Stuart McCloskey is stopped in his tracks

Ok, so from there it's an open draw?

Well, no.

Each pool must contain at least one team from each league, so you won't get any pools where all the teams are from England or an all-French line-up.

Therefore, when the draw is being made, some pools cannot be drawn for certain teams and will be removed from the pot.

In the case of the PRO14, teams from the same country cannot meet in the pool stages, meaning Ulster cannot get Leinster or Munster in the same way that Glasgow and Edinburgh cannot meet.

Give me a run down of the tiers

Alright, but it's complicated.

Tier One: Leinster Rugby, Saracens, Castres Olympique and two of Scarlets, Exeter Chiefs or Montpellier Herault

Tier Two: Glasgow Warriors, Wasps, Racing 92 and one of Scarlets, Exeter Chiefs or Montpellier Herault and the fourth-placed finishing team from the same league as the team not drawn into tier one

Tier Three: Edinburgh Rugby, Leicester Tigers, Toulouse and the two remaining fourth-placed finishing teams

Tier Four: Cardiff Blues, Bath Rugby, RC Toulon, Ulster Rugby, Gloucester Rugby

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Ulster lock Alan O'Connor playing against Harlequins in last season's Champions Cup

Where are Ulster?

Ulster, as the PRO14 playoff qualifiers, are guaranteed to be in tier four and are likely to get a pretty tough draw.

Who can they get?

Right now, just about anybody besides Leinster and Munster.

We really won't know who they can't get until the draws are made for the various tiers, but even so there's a good chance most teams will still be in the running to join them in the pool.

However, being in tier four it means by the time they get to that stage we should have a pretty good idea where Ulster will slot in. The likelihood is they will be in a pool with one team from each other league, but that's not a certainty.

When will the games be played?

Not for a while.

There are two rounds of fixtures in October, two more in December and the final two in January. The knockouts will then take place in March and April, with the final in May.

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