By David Williams
The Dragons are set to return to European rugby’s elite for the 2020-21 season with a place in the Champions Cup.
The region has not been involved in the top level tournament for nine years, but the re-jig of the current Guinness Pro 14 campaign is poised to provide Rodney Parade with a stage to host the continent’s top teams.
Organisers have confirmed the Pro 14 season will resume with derbies behind closed doors from August 22.
The competition, which was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will resume with teams from the same nation playing against each other before the season is concluded via semi-finals and a final.
There are still eight rounds of fixtures remaining but those will not be completed, with the tournament instead having an abbreviated finish consisting of two rounds of derby games counting towards final positions.
The teams finishing in the top two places in Conference A and B will contest the semi-finals, with the final scheduled to take place on September 12. Defending champions Leinster and Edinburgh lead Conference A and B respectively.
European qualification will be based on finishing positions after round 13, which has already been finalised along with the unplayed games deemed draws.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is considering increasing the number of teams in next season’s Champions Cup from 20 to 24, a change which “would apply to next season’s tournament only on an exceptional basis”.
That would increase the Pro14’s representation in Europe’s top-tier competition from seven to eight, with the Dragons claiming the additional qualifying spot.
Coach Dean Ryan’s men are fifth but the fourth-placed Cheetahs, from South Africa, are not eligible for Europe.
In a statement, Pro 14 organisers said: “The 2019-20 season will have an abbreviated finish that features the most attractive match-ups and rivalries from the Guinness PRO14 with two rounds of derby games in each territory counting towards final positions.
“This will cut the regular season from 21 game rounds to 15.
— Dragons 🏉 (at 🏡) (@dragonsrugby) June 18, 2020
“Games postponed prior to the indefinite suspension will be deemed 0-0 draws as previously stated by PRO14 Rugby on February 28, 2020.”
Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and South Africa have teams in the PRO14, covering six governmental jurisdictions whose health guidance in the face of the coronavirus pandemic must be observed.
Pro 14 tournament director David Jordan said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019-20 season.
“We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.”