18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
Following on from their highly successful involvement with the ERC run competition in the past three seasons, Parker is delighted to continue as the title sponsors.
Once again the tournament, which features teams from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, will split into two sections, providing teams with the chance to chase two titles - the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP and the PARKER PEN SHIELD.
"Last season's decision to switch the tournament to a knock-out format enabled us to provide two champions. London Wasps earned their ticket back into the Heineken Cup by winning the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP, while Castres Olympique took the PARKER PEN SHIELD title back to France with them," said ERC chief executive Derek McGrath.
"We are following the same format this season and are delighted that Parker have decided to extend their involvement for a fourth season. They first came on board with this tournament when it was called the PARKER PEN SHIELD in the 2000/2001 season and have been the title sponsors for the past two seasons.
"In partnership with ERC they have helped us to broaden the appeal of the tournament and have played a major role in developing the finals into major occasions in the European rugby calendar.
"Once again this season the winners of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP will receive automatic entry into the Heineken Cup tournament in 2004/2005, when it celebrates its 10 anniversary, while the winners of the PARKER PEN SHIELD will be one of the seeded teams in the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP the following season."
Further good news for the tournament is that ERC's new broadcast partners in the UK, Sky Sports, have agreed to cover the semi-finals and final of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP Cup to provide even greater exposure for the competition.
The format for this season's PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP tournament has been slightly adapted following the change in Wales from nine professional clubs to five regional sides and there will be 28 teams involved in 14 first round matches.
The winners of those matches, along with two 'Lucky Losers', will move forward into the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP, while the remaining 12 losers will be joined by four teams from Spain and Portugal to form the PARKER PEN SHIELD competition.
"We are delighted to be extending our association with the ERC and their tournaments for a further year and look forward to another season of high rugby drama in both competitions," said Parker Managing Director Jim Haggerty.
"Last season's format worked very well for the clubs and it certainly heightened the interest for both the fans and the media. We look forward to working with ERC and all the clubs to continue the success story this season."
HOW THE DRAW WAS MADE . . .
The 28 teams from six different countries were broken down into the following categories:
France (10), Italy (8), England (6), Spain (2), Ireland (1) and Scotland (1).
The 14 seeded teams were:
France: Grenoble, Pau, Montferrand, Narbonne, Castres Olympique
England: NEC Harlequins, Saracens, London Irish, Newcastle Falcons, Bath Rugby
Italy: Viadana, Petrarca Rugby
Scotland: Glasgow Rugby
The non-seeded teams were:
France: Montauban, Beziers, Colomiers, Montpellier, Brive
Italy: Rugby Parma, GRAN Rugby, Rovigo, L'Aquila Rugby, Rugby Roma, Leonessa
Spain: Centransa El Salvador, VRAC
England: Rotherham Titans
In order to ensure teams from the same country were not drawn against each other, the drawing officer withdrew seeded teams from the same country as non-seeded teams in a prescribed sequence of draws.
HOME OR AWAY? . . .
The unseeded club will play at home in the first leg in Round 1 of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP.
Round Two and Quarter-Finals
A draw was conducted to decide who will play at home first in Round 2 and the quarter-finals.
Each tie in the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP was numbered from Game 1 to Game 14. Each game in Round One was represented by a disc and there were two further discs representing Lucky Loser 1 and Lucky Loser 2.
The Drawing Officer placed the relevant two discs into a bag. The first disc drawn out of the bag represented the home team in the first leg of that tie.
The draw to decide home and away status in the first-leg of the quarter-finals was conducted in the same fashion.
Following the completion of the quarter-final ties in January, 2004, a draw will take place to decide who will play at home first in the semi-final tie.
The PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP Final will be played in a one off match at a venue designated by ERC.
THE PARKER PEN SHIELD
The Round 1 fixtures of the PARKER PEN SHIELD will be drawn immediately after Round 1 of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP has been completed.
The 12 remaining Round 1 losers in the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP will move into a draw with the four new teams for Round 1 of the PARKER PEN SHIELD.
The draw will be conducted in such a way that no two teams from the same country will meet in Round 1
Home or Away?. . .
As soon as Round 1 fixtures are drawn, another draw will decide who will play at home in the first leg of Round 1 and the quarter-final ties.
Following the completion of the quarter-final ties a draw will take place to decide who will play at home first in the semi-finals.
The Final will be played in a one off match at a venue designated by ERC.