Rotherham have been handed a baptism of fire in Round 1 of the European Challenge Cup 2003 / 2004 tournament.
The promoted English National Division One champions will make their European Challenge Cup debut against Narbonne at Millmoor Ground on the first weekend of December before travelling to the home of the former French champions - and 2001 European Shield finalists - the following weekend for their second leg clash.
And former Heineken Cup winners Brive (1997) and Bath Rugby (1998) will both face Italian opposition in the opening round, Brive at home to Viadana and Bath Rugby away to L'Aquila in the first leg of ERC's competition.
"The two-year Parker Pen contract has ended and the Parker company have decided not to renew its title sponsorship of the competition," said Derek McGrath, ERC Chief Executive.
Meanwhile Castres Olympique earned the right to be one of the five seeded French clubs, courtesy of winning the PARKER PEN SHIELD last May, a prize that will continue next season, while Beziers came into the tournament in place of the relegated Bordeaux-Begles.
Glasgow Rugby, appearing in the competition for the first time, will be against Montpellier in Round 1 while Connacht travel to Beziers on the opening weekend.
The tournament, which was won by London Wasps last May, has been reduced from 32 to 28 teams this year due to the reorganisation of the Welsh professional club game.
This means there will be 14 matches in Round 1 of the European Challenge Cup, producing 14 winners to move into the second round. The two best defeated teams will join the 14 winners in Round 2 as 'Lucky Losers', providing eight games in that round.
Meanwhile, the 12 remaining first round losers will move into Round 1 of the European Shield where they will be joined by four additional teams, two from Spain - VRAC (Valladolid) and Madrid 2012 - and two from Portugal - FC Belenenses and RC Coimbra. The latter means Portugal are back on the scene for the first time since the national side played in the 1998 / 1999 event.
ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux - who conducted the draw with ERC Italian Director Sandro Manzoni - said: "After the success of last year's new format for the PARKER EPN CHALLENGE CUP competition we are delighted to be able to stay with the same formula that met with such huge approval with all players and fans that culminated in a great double-header at the Madejski Stadium in Reading that attracted over 18,000 spectators. The restructuring process that has gone on in Wales has left us without any Welsh representation in the 2003 / 2004 tournament.
"However, any tournament that can boast two winners of the Heineken Cup - Bath and Brive - four of last season's Heineken Cup sides - Viadana, London Irish, Glasgow Rugby and Montferrand - and three other European Shield champions - Pau, NEC Harlequins and Castres Olympique - is bound to grab the attention of rugby lovers across Europe."
Romania will not be taking part in the tournament this year because of the December / January scheduling which coincides with their severe winter conditions.
Unseeded teams home in first leg on 5 / 6 / 7 December. Seeded teams (in bold) home in second leg on 12 / 13 / 14 December.
Game 1: Dulciora El Salvador v NEC Harlequins
Game 2: Rugby Rovigo v Castres Olympique
Game 3: Brive v Viadana
Game 4: Rotherham v Narbonne
Game 5: Montauban v London Irish
Game 6: Beziers v Connacht
Game 7: Rugby Parma v Pau
Game 8: Rugby Roma v Saracens
Game 9: Montpellier v Glasgow Rugby
Game 10: Leonessa v Montferrand
Game 11: La Moraleja Alcobendas v Newcastle Falcons
Game 12: Colomiers v Petrarca Padova
Game 13: L'Aquila Rugby v Bath Rugby
Game 14: GR.A.N. Rugby Parma v Grenoble
First named winner / lucky loser home in first leg on 9 / 10 /11 January, 2004. Second named winner / lucky loser home in second leg on 16 / 17 / 18 January
Game 15: Lucky Loser v Winner Game 1
Game 16: Winner Game 3 v Winner Game 2
Game 17: Winner Game 5 v Winner Game 4
Game 18: Winner Game 6 v Winner Game 7
Game 19: Winner Game 8 v Winner Game 9
Game 20: Winner Game 11 v Winner Game 10
Game 21: Winner Game 12 v Winner Game 13
Game 22: Winner Game 14 v Lucky Loser
First named winner home in first leg on 23 / 24 / 25 January. Second named winner home in second leg on 30 / 31 January, 1 February
Game 23: Winner Game 15 v Winner Game 16
Game 24: Winner Game 17 v Winner Game 18
Game 25: Winner Game 20 v Winner Game 19
Game 26: Winner Game 22 v Winner Game 21
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 Padova
Scotland: Glasgow Rugby
The non-seeded teams were:
France: Montauban, Beziers, Colomiers, Montpellier, Brive
Italy: Rugby Parma, GR.A.N. Parma, Rovigo, L'Aquila, Roma, Leonessa
Spain: Dulciora El Salvador, La Moraleja Alcobendas
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.
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 European Challenge Cup Final will be played in a one-off match at a venue designated by ERC.
Click here to see the full fixture grid
THE 'LUCKY LOSERS' CRITERIA
The 14 winning clubs in Round 1 of the European Challenge Cup will be joined in Round 2 by two 'Lucky Losers' who will be determined by the following criteria:
a) the two Clubs with the most Match Points following the two legs of the tie (2 points for a win and 1 for a draw)
b) if Match Points are equal the Club(s) with the best aggregate points difference (points scored on the field of play) over the two legs of the tie.
c) if the aggregate points difference from the two legs is equal the Club(s) who scored the most tries over the two legs of the tie.
d) if the number of tries over the two legs is equal, the Club(s) that scored the most number of tries in the away leg of the tie.
e) if tries scored on the away leg are equal the Club(s) that scored the most number of tries in the home leg of the tie.
f) if tries scored in the home leg are equal, the Club(s) that scored the most number of points over the two legs of the tie.
g) if points scored over the two legs are equal, the Club(s) that scored the most number of points in the away leg of the tie.
h) if the points scored in the away leg are equal, the Club(s) that scored the most number of points in the home leg of the tie.
i) by the toss of a coin.
THE EUROPEAN SHIELD
The Round 1 fixtures of the European Shield will be drawn immediately after Round 1 of the European Challenge Cup has been completed.
The 12 remaining Round 1 losers in the European Challenge Cup will move into a draw with the four new teams for Round 1 of the European 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.