Italy to lose automatic Champions Cup spot as qualification revamped

Wasps centre Kyle Eastmond is tackled while playing in the Champions Cup against Italian side Zebre last October. Warren Little/Getty Images

Italy will lose its right to an automatic Champions Cup place from next season after tournament organisers announced an overhaul of its qualification process.

Treviso will compete in European club rugby's top competition next season despite finishing 10th in this season's PRO12 table.

That is because under current rules the highest ranked PRO12 sides from Ireland, Italy and Wales are all guaranteed a spot in the Champions Cup.

However, tournament organisers EPCR revealed a more streamlined qualification process on Thursday morning that will see the top seven teams from the PRO12 -- regardless of nationality -- join the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 top six in the competition.

The 20th place in the Champions Cup will be taken by the winners of the Challenge Cup, bringing to an end the current end-of-season playoff system.

"These changes are designed to strengthen both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup," EPCR Director General, Vincent Gaillard said.

"The new qualification format will contribute further to the advances that we have made in attendances, TV audiences and expansion to new territories as we continue to create outstanding rugby experiences for participating clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters and importantly, our fans."

Zebre represented Italy in the 2016-17 edition of the Champions Cup, losing all six of their Pool Two games while conceding 331 points -- 132 more than any other side by that stage of last season's competition.

PRO12 Rugby Chief Executive, Martin Anayi, said: "Everyone has seen the positive impact that meritocracy has had on the Guinness PRO12 since it was introduced in the 2014-15 season. Competition has never been greater among our clubs and these latest changes will deliver true meritocracy to our Championship.

"In this past season, we have been greatly encouraged by the performances of our teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup and this development will prime them to make a greater impact in the future."