In fact, the winners of the "Challenge Sud Radio" title will become the first qualifiers for the 2004/2005 campaign - before even the 2003/2004 tournament has kicked-off.
The new competition will start on 30 August and involve the top 16 clubs in France. They will be split into four Pools of four teams, with each side playing the other on a home and away basis.
The top two teams in each Pool will move forward into a knock-out phase, with clubs ranked according to Pool performance as in the Heineken Cup. The competition will culminate in a final on 11 November with the winner guaranteeing themselves a place in the Heineken Cup for the following season.
ERC chaiman Jean-Pierre Lux is the man who masterminded the plan as a director of the French Ligue Nationale.
"With the Rugby World Cup taking place this autumn, the French First Division clubs did not want to play more than three French championship games during that period," said Msr Lux
"We needed another meaningful competition to allow our clubs to continue playing rugby and to help generate vital income during the three months of World Cup preparation and competition.
"Even without our World Cup players, this should be an exciting competition which introduces a new system of bonus points. There will be the usual point for a defeat by seven points or less, but there will also be a point for a team that scores three more tries than the opposition, rather than simply scoring a certain number of tries as is the current system in the Super 12 and in the Zurich Premiership.
"At the moment this competition is planned solely to coincide with the constraints of World Cup year."
The draw for the Pools, which has taken this season's rankings and geography into account, has paired three previous Heineken Cup finalists - Brive (winners in 1997 and runners-up in 1998), Stade Francais (runners-up in 2001) and Perpignan (runners-up in 2003) in Pool 1, reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulouse in Pool 2 with 1999 finalists Colomiers, European Shield champions Castres Olympique with Beziers, Biarritz Olympique and Agen in Pool 3 and Bourgoin, Grenoble, Montferrand and Montpellier in Pool 4.
Perpignan Brive Narbonne Stade Francais
Pau Montauban Colomiers Toulouse
Agen Beziers Biarritz Castres
AS Montferrand Bourgoin Grenoble Montpellier
Round 1 - August 30/31
Round 2 - September 6/7
Round 3 - September 13/14
Round 4 - September 20/21
Round 5 - September 27/28
Round 6 - October 4/5
Quarter-finals - November 1 2003
Semi-finals - November 8 2003
Final - November 11 2003