THE Dragons won’t face a trip to Germany in next season’s European Challenge Cup after Heidelberger RK were denied entry to the second-tier tournament.

The Germans qualified for the competition by beating Calvisano and Timisoara Saracens to make it to the Continental Shield final.

They proved their pedigree when they pushed Russia’s Enisei-STM, familiar foes for the Dragons, hard when beaten 24-20 in Bilbao but European chiefs have blocked their entry to the Challenge Cup.

A statement read: “On the basis that Dr Hans-Peter Wild, who is the majority shareholder of Stade Français Paris and the primary financial backer of Heidelberger RK, would be in a position to influence or to control the management or performance of two clubs in the same competition, European Professional Club Rugby decided that the German club could not participate. A replacement club will be announced shortly.”

That is despite Champions Cup qualifiers Leinster, Munster and Ulster being owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union along with SRU-owned Glasgow and Edinburgh, who are also in the top tier tournament.

Unlike those clubs, it would be possible for the Parisians and Heidelberger to be drawn in the same group in Switzerland on June 20.

The prime options for the Germans’ replacement would appear to be Krasny Yar or Timisoara, who were beaten in the Shield semi-finals.

The Dragons are part of a five-strong PRO14 contingent featuring the Ospreys, Treviso, Connacht and Zebre.

French giants Clermont-Auvergne are a surprise inclusion for next season after a disappointing Top 14 campaign.

Head coach Bernard Jackman could face a reunion with Grenoble after they were promoted along with Perpignan while Champions Cup quarter-finalists La Rochelle, Pau, Bordeaux-Begles, Agen and Stade Francais also feature.

The English contingent features Northampton, Sale, Harlequins, Worcester and promoted Bristol.

The draw for the five pools will take place in Switzerland on Wednesday, June 20 and each group will feature one of the PRO14 and Premiership quintets.

Three pools will have a French pair with Enisei-STM and the other minnow kept apart. The exact dates for fixtures are set to be announced in August as the teams battle for a place in the final at Newcastle’s St James’ Park.

European Challenge Cup teams

Guinness PRO14 (5): Benetton Rugby, Ospreys, Connacht Rugby, Zebre Rugby Club, Dragons

Gallagher Premiership Rugby (5): Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints, Harlequins, Worcester Warriors, Bristol Bears

TOP 14 (8): La Rochelle, Pau, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Bordeaux-Bègles, Agen, Stade Français Paris, Perpignan, Grenoble

Continental Shield (2): Enisei-STM, TBC

European weekends

Round 1: 12/13/14 October

Round 2: 19/20/21 October

Round 3: 7/8/9 December

Round 4: 14/15/16 December

Round 5: 11/12/13 January 2019

Round 6: 18/19/20 January 2019

Quarter-finals: 29/30/31 March 2019

Semi-finals: 19/20/21 April 2019

2019 Newcastle finals

Challenge Cup final: Friday 10 May, St James’ Park

Continental Shield final: TBC, Kingston Park

Champions Cup final: Saturday 11 May, St James’ Park