Zebre and Treviso face Champions Cup wilderness after rule changes

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Italian clubs have lost their right to a mandatory place in the European Champions Cup following changes announced by the competition's governing body.

At the end of the 2017-18 season, the top seven in the Pro12 will receive a spot in the top European competition regardless of their country of origin.

Additionally, the winner of the European Challenge Cup, or the losing finalist if the victor has already qualified, will claim a spot in the subsequent season's Champions Cup.

European Professional Club Rugby director general Vincent Gaillard said: "These changes are designed to strengthen both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup.

"The new qualification format will contribute further to the advances that we have made in attendances, TV audiences and expansion to new territories as we continue to create outstanding rugby experiences for participating clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters and importantly, our fans."

Pro12 Rugby chief executive Martin Anayi added: "Everyone has seen the positive impact that meritocracy has had on the Guinness Pro12 since it was introduced in the 2014-15 season.

"Competition has never been greater among our clubs and these latest changes will deliver true meritocracy to our championship.

"In this past season, we have been greatly encouraged by the performances of our teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup and this development will prime them to make a greater impact in the future."

No Italian side has ever reached the knockout rounds of Europe's top-tier competition.

Benetton Treviso and Zebre, the Pro12's two Italian representatives, finished 10th and last in the competition this year, the former earning a place in the Champions Cup.