The dates for the nine weekends of matches in the three tournaments organised and run by ERC, currently the Heineken Cup, PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP and PARKER PEN SHIELD, will be as follows:
ERC WEEKEND DATES FOR SEASON 2003/2004:
Weekend 1 5/6/7 December, 2003 Weekend 2 12/13/14 December Weekend 3 9/10/11 January, 2004 Weekend 4 16/17/18 January Weekend 5 23/24/25 January Weekend 6 30/31 January, 1 February Weekend 7 9/10/11 April Weekend 8 24/25 April Finals 22/23 May
The European tournaments will kick-off on the first weekend of December, 2003 - two weeks after the World Cup final is staged in Sydney, Australia. There will be six weekends of European action played over a nine-week period in December and January, 2004, before the launch of the Six Nations Championship. The first two European weekends will be played on the 5/6/7 and 12/13/14 December followed by a break of three weeks before weekends 3, 4, 5 and 6 are staged consecutively in January, 2004.
The tournaments will reappear for the knock-out phases, on the weekend 9/10/11 April - two weeks after the final round of Six Nations Championship matches. The penultimate weekend will take place two weeks later, on 24/25 April, with the finals being staged at neutral venues on the weekend of 22/23 May, 2004. "The early release of the fixture dates has been designed to give the Unions of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Romania as much time as possible to arrange their domestic tournaments in an extremely busy World Cup season," said Derek McGrath, ERC Chief Executive. "We believe the block of fixtures, sandwiching the Christmas and New Year holiday weekends, will enhance the interest and intensity of those early stages of the tournaments.
"In addition to it being a hugely busy season on the pitch, it will also be a significant time off the pitch. Commercial negotiations for title sponsorship, partner packages for each of the tournaments and broadcasting rights are on-going to ensure the continuing stability of the European club game."