|Current season or competition:
2013–14 Top 14 season
|Number of teams||14|
|Holders||Castres Olympique (2012–13)|
The Top 14 (French pronunciation: [tɔp katɔʀz]) is a rugby union club competition that is played in France. The Top 14 is at the top of the national league system operated by the French National Rugby League, also known by its French initialism of LNR. There is promotion and relegation between the Top 14 and the next level down, the Rugby Pro D2. The fourteen best rugby teams in France participate in the competition, hence the name Top 14. The competition was previously known as the Top 16.
The first ever final took place in 1892, between two Paris-based sides, Stade Français and Racing Club, with the latter becoming the inaugural champions. The competition has been held on an annual basis since, except from 1915 to 1919—because of World War I—and from 1940 to 1942—because of World War II. Toulouse is the most successful club in the competition with 19 titles.
The first competition was held in 1892, as a one-off championship game between the Racing Club de France and Stade Français. The Racing Club defeated Stade Français four points to three to win the first ever title, though the stadistes got their revenge the following year in a repeat of the final. The match official for that first final was Pierre de Coubertin. Stade Français would go onto win a number of titles thereafter. The 1897 and 1898 series were awarded on a points system after a round-robin. Although the competition was called the French championship, entry was confined to Parisian clubs. The 1899 season was the first to include clubs from outside of Paris, and led to Stade Bordelais (from Bordeaux) winning the final that season, which was also played outside of Paris, in Le Bouscat (a suburb of the city of Bordeaux).
For the following decade the championship game would usually end up being contested by the Racing Club, Stade Français and Stade Bordelais, with Stade Bordelais actually winning five titles during this period. During this time the final was usually held in various stadia around Paris with the exception of 1903 and 1909 where it was held in Toulouse, as SOE Toulouse and Stade Toulousain were finalists respectively. The competition was then won by a number of different clubs before World War I, with teams like FC Lyon, Stade Toulousain, Aviron Bayonnais and USA Perpignan claiming their first titles.
Between the wars
Due to the war, operations were suspended for a number of years. In its place, a competition known as the Coupe de l'Espérance was held which consisted mostly of young boys who had not yet been drafted. The competition was held four times but is not normally considered a full championship. The normal competition returned for the 1920 season, and Stadoceste Tarbais became the first post-war champions, defeating the Racing Club in the final. During the 1920s Stade Toulousain would create its now famous rugby history, winning five championships during the decade. USA Perpignan would also win two championships (their 1925 final victory was actually a second match, as a previous final had ended in a nil-all draw).
During the 1930s the championship game was held only in Bordeaux and Toulouse. The 1930 championship game won by Agen over US Quillan, was the first final to go into extra-time. It would also see Toulon and Lyon OU win their first championship games. During the latter part of the decade, RC Narbonne, CS Vienne and Perpignan all won titles, and Biarritz Olympique were champions in both 1935 and 1939.
After the war the championship final returned to Paris, and was played at Parc des Princes for the next four seasons. The competition during the 1940s was won by a number of different teams, though Castres won in 1949, and then again in 1950. FC Lourdes would become a dominant club during the 1950s, winning five championships, and another in 1960.
SU Agen would go onto win three titles during the 1960s as well. Lourdes were also the champions of the 1968 season, but due to the May 1968 events, the finale was played three weeks behind normal schedule. At the end of regulation time the score was tied at 6–6, and then 9–9 after extra-time. Lourdes were declared champions because they had scored two tries to Toulon’s none and also because it was impossible to reschedule a third final so late, as the French national team were to leave on a tour to New Zealand and South Africa.
Although Béziers won their first championship in the 1961 season, it would be the 1970s which would see a golden era for the club, as they would win ten championships between 1971 and 1984, as well as being runners-up in 1976. Also in the mid 1970s, after being held in Toulouse, Lyon and Bordeaux in recent years, the championship final was taken to Parc des Princes on a permanent basis. During the rest of the 1980s, Toulouse were the dominant team, winning the championship in 1985, 1986 and 1989. Toulon won in 1987 (and were runners-up in 1985 and 1989), and Agen won in 1988 (and were runners-up in 1984 and 1986).
Into the professional era
The first match of the 1990s went into extra time, as the Racing Club defeated Agen, winning their first championship since 1959. CA Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde, Toulon, Castres and Toulouse would win the following finals. The 1990s also saw the game of rugby union go professional following the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. This also led to the establishment of the European Heineken Cup. Including their 1994 victory, Toulouse won four championships in succession. For the 1998 season, the final was moved to the newly constructed Stade de France, the new national stadium. The final, played in front of 78,000, saw Stade Français win their first championship since 1908.
The competition saw an enormous rise in popularity in 2005–06, with attendance rising to an average of 9,600 up by 25% from 2004–05, and numerous sellouts. On 15 October 2005, Stade Français drew a crowd of 79,502 at Stade de France for their home match against Toulouse; this broke the previous French attendance record for a regular-season league match in any sport (including football) by over 20,000. That record was broken on 4 March 2006, when Stade Français drew 79,604 to a rematch of the 2004–05 final against Biarritz at Stade de France. It was broken again on 14 October 2006 with 79,619 as the same two opponents met, and a fourth time on 27 January 2007, with 79,741 for another Stade Français-Toulouse match. During the regular season 2010–2011, the average attendance per match reached 14,184.
In 2011, Canal+ indicated that evening matches are watched by 800,000–850,000 viewers while afternoon matches are watched by around 700,000 viewers.
Economic strength of the Top 14 clubs
Over the recent years, the Top 14 has seen the economic strength of its clubs rise significantly. Helped with high attendances, large TV rights contracts, public subsidies and the rise of the euro exchange rate, Top 14 clubs have seen their overall spending budget increase significantly. In 2011–2012, 4 clubs had a budget over 20 millions euros: Toulouse (33), Clermont (24), Racing Metro (22), Stade Francais (21). The average salary of players in the Top 14 were estimated to have risen, in 2010, to an average of $153,700 (to compare with $123,000 in the English Premiership). The wealth of the Top 14 clubs has led them to attract a large number of international players, and to build teams with more strength in depth (in 2011, Top 14 clubs could have as many as 45 players to compare with 33 for Leicester Tigers, 2010 Premiership winner).
Two recent changes in regulation may somewhat limit this economic growth. First, the French government repealed the law known as DIC (Droit à l'Image Collectif) the 1 July 2010. This law, allowed all member clubs in French professional sports organisations to treat 30% of each player's salary as image rights. This portion of player salaries was thus exempt from France's high payroll and social insurance taxes.
Second, to control the growth of club spending, the LNR introduced a salary cap in the Top 14 in the 2010–11 season. Under the provisions of the cap, team payrolls was limited to €8 million. This is in addition to an existing requirement that wage bills be no more than 50% of a team's turnover. However, the €8 million cap was only 5% greater than the highest official wage bill in the 2009–10 Top 14, and translated to £7.1 million at the time the cap was announced, well above the English Premiership's then-current £4 million cap. For the season 2011–2012, the LNR raised the salary cap to €8.7 million. Since then, the cap has risen still further, to €10 million starting in 2013–14 and continuing through 2015–16. Additionally, the cap now excludes youth players whose salaries are no more than €50,000.
At the same time as LNR announced the salary cap, it also announced new rules requiring a minimum percentage of French players on club rosters. Original plans were to require 50% French players in 2010–11, but protests from leading clubs led to a reduction to 40% for that season. The 50% quota was to be met in 2011–12, and 60% in 2012–13. Qualifying players must have been registered with the FFR for at least five years before turning 21, or have spent three seasons in an FFR-approved training centre if they are currently under 21. These regulations, however, do not consider whether a player is eligible to play for the French national team. For example, the Armitage brothers (Delon, Steffon and Guy), although now internationally committed to England, all qualify as "French-developed" players because of their tenure in Nice's youth setup, while recent France international Jérôme Thion, despite being a native of the country, is not considered "French-developed" under these regulations because he switched from basketball to rugby too late in his youth.
While the most visible critics of the change in policy were wealthy club owners such as Mourad Boudjellal of Toulon and Max Guazzini of Stade Français, concern had been growing in French rugby circles that some smaller clubs might fold completely. Bourgoin only avoided a bankruptcy filing in 2009 by players agreeing to large wage cuts, and Brive, whose 2009–10 wage bill was €7.2 million, announced that they would cut their budget by 40% for the 2010–11 season. Following the 2009–10 season, Bourgoin were denied a professional licence by LNR due to their ongoing financial issues, but the French Rugby Federation (FFR) reversed this decision on Bourgoin's appeal. Montauban were relegated at the end of the same season after filing for bankruptcy.
By the 2012–13 season, the internationalization of the Top 14 had reached such a state that Irish rugby journalist Ian Moriarty, who has had considerable experience covering the French game, asked the rhetorical question, "Has there ever been such a large disconnect between France's club teams and the international side they are supposed to serve?" He cited the following statistics from that season to make his point:
- Clermont and Toulon, who were set to play in the Heineken Cup final within days of Moriarty's piece, fielded a total of eight France-qualified starters out of a possible 30 in their Heineken Cup semifinal matches. Of these eight players, only four were regulars in the French national team.
- During the 2012–13 Top 14, none of the top three points scorers were French, and only three of the top 10 try scorers were French.
- Of the players who made the most appearances in their respective positions during that season, only three (out of 15) were French.
- National team coach Philippe Saint-André suggested that several "foreign" players—meaning players who were born and largely developed outside the country—could make their debuts for France during the team's 2013 summer tour. Moriarty specifically named five such players as potential Test newcomers.
Format and structure
The Top 14 is contested by fourteen professional rugby union clubs throughout France. The domestic season runs from August through to June. Every club contests 26 games during the regular season – over 26 rounds of competition. The season is split into two halves for scheduling purposes; both halves are scheduled in the same order, with the team at home in the first half of the season on the road in the second. Throughout the August–June competition there are breaks during the season, as there are also European Rugby Cup (Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup) fixtures that are played during the rugby season, as well as the Six Nations Championship, in which many top French players are involved, as well as a few players from the other European powers. The schedule may be adjusted somewhat in World Cup years; this was especially true in the 2007–08 season, which ran up against the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. That season, the Top 14 played on all of the Six Nations weekends and on some of the Heineken Cup weekends.
The Top 14 is organized by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), which runs the professional rugby leagues within France (Top 14 and Rugby Pro D2). There exists a promotion and relegation system between the Top 14 and Pro D2. The two lowest placed clubs on the ladder after the regular season are relegated to Pro D2, while two clubs come up from Pro D2, specifically the champion and the winner of a knock-out playoff between the next four teams on the ladder. Starting with the 2009–10 season, the Top 14 knock-out stages consist of three rounds. The teams finishing third through to sixth on the ladder play quarter-finals, hosted by the No. 3 and No. 4 teams. The winners then face the top two seeds in the semi-finals, whose winners then meet in the final at Stade de France. In previous seasons, only the top four teams qualified for semi-finals. Unlike many other major rugby competitions (such as the Aviva Premiership, ITM Cup, Currie Cup, and from 2009–10 the Celtic League/Pro12), the Top 14 has traditionally held its semi-finals at neutral sites.
Regardless of the playoff format, the top six teams have qualified for the following season's Heineken Cup in recent years. Before the 2009–10 season, the seventh-place team also qualified if a French club advanced farther in that season's Heineken Cup than any team from England or Italy. While the European qualification system was changed for 2009–10, the normal contingent of six Top 14 teams in the Heineken Cup did not change.
Previously in the first phase of the then-Top 16, the teams were divided into two pools of eight. This was followed by a second phase, in which the eight highest-ranked teams played for semi-final spots and the bottom eight teams battled against relegation. In 2004–05, the top division consisted of a single pool of 16 teams, with the top four teams advancing to a knockout playoff at the end of the season to determine the champion. From 2005–06 through 2008–09, the top division was run with a single pool of 14 teams, again with a season-ending four-team playoff. The single pool was retained for 2009–10, but the playoffs were expanded to six teams.
The LNR uses a slightly different bonus points system from that used in most other major domestic competitions. Instead of a bonus point being awarded for scoring 4 tries in a match, regardless of the match result, a bonus point is awarded to a winning team that scores 3 tries more than its opponent. This system makes two scenarios that can be seen in the standard system absolutely impossible:
- A losing team earning two bonus points. (The "offensive" bonus point, linked to the number of tries scored, can only be earned by the winning team in France.)
- Either team earning a bonus point in a drawn match. (See above for the "offensive" bonus point. The "defensive" bonus point can only be earned by a losing team.)
The Top 14 also serves as the qualification route for French clubs into the two European Rugby competitions: the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup. A minimum of six French clubs qualify for top level of competition, the Heineken Cup. The top six ranked French clubs (one through to six on the points ladder) at the end of the regular season qualify for the following season's Heineken Cup. In accordance with rules changes that take effect with the 2009–10 season, the winners of the Heineken and Challenge Cups each receive automatic Heineken Cup berths for the following season; unlike past years, these berths are not at the expense of a country's allocation. However, England and France are capped at seven Heineken Cup berths each. If either country produces both Cup winners in the same season, one of its league berths in the Heineken Cup will instead go to the club that is ranked highest in the European Rugby Club Rankings that is (1) not of that country and (2) not already qualified for the Heineken Cup. This means that France will have seven berths if either of the following happens:
- A French club wins either of the two Cup competitions.
- English clubs win both Cup competitions, or one of Scotland's two professional teams wins either Cup competition, and the club that stands highest in the ERC Rankings among those that did not otherwise qualify for the Heineken Cup is French. (In the case of Scotland, the rule is triggered because both of Scotland's teams are automatically entered in the Heineken Cup.)
Under the regulations of the Top 14, the teams are presented to the Heineken Cup's organizer, European Rugby Cup, in the following order:
- The French champion.
- The runner-up in the championship final.
- The Heineken Cup winner (automatically guaranteed a berth by ERC rules).
- The losing semifinalist in the French playoffs that finished higher on the league table.
- The losing semifinalist in the French playoffs that finished lower on the league table.
- The Amlin Challenge Cup winner (automatically guaranteed a berth by ERC rules).
- If France earns a seventh berth, it will be based on league position.
If a winner of one of the European cups is relegated, it will not be nominated to either cup competition; its place will be taken by a current Top 14 side based on league position. If no French team wins a European cup, the remaining two Heineken Cup places beyond those taken by the semifinalists will be based strictly on league position at the end of the regular season.
All Top 14 clubs that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup automatically qualify for the Challenge Cup. This means that all Top 14 clubs will participate in European competition during a given season.
The French clubs have had huge success in the European competitions. The inaugural Heineken Cup, held in the 1995–96 season, was won by Toulouse, which would eventually claim three more championships (2003, 2005 and 2010). It would also not be until the fifth championship game until there was no French team in the final. In addition, there have also been four occasions where the final was an all-French encounter. The first three were all won by Toulouse (against Perpignan in 2003, Stade Français in 2005, and Biarritz in 2010); the most recent was Toulon's 2013 victory over Clermont.
In addition to the French success in the Heineken Cup, the clubs in the lower European competitions have achieved similar results. The first four finals of the European Challenge Cup (1997–2000) were all-French affairs. Since then, however, only two French clubs (Clermont in 2007 and Biarritz in 2012) have won this competition, and French clubs in general have had less success; the revised Top 16/Top 14 format has required them to pay more attention to league games in order to avoid relegation. The now defunct European Shield, a repechage tournament for clubs knocked out in the first round of the Challenge Cup that was played for three seasons from 2003–05, was won by a French team each time.
Note: In the table below, English capitalization rules are used for full club names. In French, adjectives, including proper adjectives, are not capitalized, although the names of political subdivisions used as nouns are capitalized. For example, the full name of ASM Clermont Auvergne using French rules is Association sportive montferrandaise Clermont Auvergne.
- Bayonne took one match across the Spanish border to Estadio Anoeta in Donostia-San Sebastián in 2012–13.
- Biarritz has historically taken at least one home match per season to the Anoeta, but has not done so since the 2010–11 season.
- In 2012–13, Bordeaux Bègles played eight of their 13 home matches at the larger Stade Chaban-Delmas and only five at their traditional home of Stade André-Moga. They intend to do the same in 2013–14.
- In 2012–13, Grenoble played four home matches at the city's largest venue, Stade des Alpes. In 2013–14, they intend to play five matches there.
- In 2012–13, Perpignan played one home match at Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in Montjuïc, Barcelona.
- Racing took two 2012–13 home matches to Stade de France.
- Stade Français will return to their traditional home, Stade Jean-Bouin, for the 2013–14 season. The club intends to take at least one home Top 14 match to Stade de France.
- Toulon took one home match to Stade Vélodrome in Marseille in 2012–13, resuming a past practice that they skipped in 2011–12.
- Toulouse often takes high-demand home matches to the city's largest sporting venue, Stadium Municipal. Two of their 2012–13 home matches were played there.
|Club||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points For||Points Against||Points Difference||Tries For||Tries Against||Try Bonus||Losing Bonus||Points|
Updated 3 March 2014
|Yellow background (rows 1 and 2) receive semi-final play-off places and receive berths in the 2014–15 Heineken Cup. Green background (rows 3 and 4) receive home quarter-final play-off places, and receive berths in the 2014–15 Heineken Cup. Blue background (rows 5 and 6) receive away quarter-final play-off places, and will also receive Heineken Cup berths (barring highly unlikely circumstances). Red background (row 13 and 14) will be relegated to Rugby Pro D2. Source:ESPN Scrum|
The scores in green are links to the account of each final on the site of the professional league (LNR). In French.
- AFP (28 January 2007). "Le Stade Français sort vainqueur du choc contre Toulouse". Le Monde (in French).
- LNR. "Statistiques generales 2010–2011" (in French).
- Camille Belsoeur (11 05, 2011). "Droits TV: comment Canal+ a recadré le rugby français". L'Expansion (in French).
- Chris Raveney (11 May 2011). "Canal Plus retains Top 14 with multi-million dollar deal". sportspromedia.com.
- Mick Cleary (10 February 2009). "Top English rugby talent lured by Euro". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
- Renaud (16 August 2011). "Toulouse toujours le plus gros budget du Top 14" (in French). rencontresaxv.fr.
- Bruce Crumley (16 May 2010). "Gloom over French Soccer Contrasts With Rugby's Rise". Time.
- Paul Dearlove (22 November 2010). "Paul Dearlove column: Up to 50 foreign stars could be heading to Top 14 for next season". frenchrugbyclub.com.
- Jonathan Clegg (14 January 2011). "French Rugby Rules Europe". The Wall Street Journal.
- Moriarty, Ian (2009-11-11). "French rugby heading for crisis". Scrum.com. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- "Top 14 set for salary cap". Scrum.com. 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2009-12-19.
- Moriarty, Ian (2009-12-18). "Salary cap just sleight of hand". Scrum.com. Retrieved 2009-12-19.
- "Salary cap up to €8.7m". frenchrugbyclub.com. 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
- "French rugby chiefs agree salary cap rise". ESPN Scrum. 2013-04-17. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
- Eddison, Paul (2013-12-04). "Rugby's uncordiale entente". ESPN Scrum. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
- "Bourgoin maintenu en Top 14" (in French). 2010-07-09. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
- Moriarty, Ian (2013-05-15). "The multi-national tricolour". ESPN Scrum. Retrieved 2013-05-17.
- "Format and qualification changes for Europe" (Press release). European Rugby Cup. 2009-06-15. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
- "Article 328, Section 3.1 – Participation des clubs français en Coupes d’Europe", Reglements de la Ligue Nationale de Rugby 2009/2010, Chapitre 2 : Règlement sportif des championnats professionnels (in French) (Ligue Nationale de Rugby) Downloadable from the official LNR site here; click on the link immediately below "REGLEMENTS DE LA LIGUE NATIONALE DE RUGBY 2009–2010".
- "European Challenge Cup – Key Tournament Rules". ercrugby.com. Retrieved 2007-08-24.
- "Abonnement saison complète 2013-2014" (in French). www.ubbrugby.com. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- "ABONNEMENTS SAISON 2013-2014" (in French). www.fcgrugby.com. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- "Billetterie Informations" (in French). www.stade.fr. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- Only 2 clubs took part. Match account in French
- The title was awarded after a round-robin with 5 clubs. Stade Français won with 10 points, Olympique de Paris was second with 8.
- The title was awarded after a round-robin with 6 clubs. Stade Français won with 10 points, Racing was second with 6.
- The first time provincial teams were invited.
- In 1901, Stade Bordelais won the final 3–0. But the U.S.F.S.A. which organized the competition cancelled the result and ordered a replay in Paris, as Stade Bordelais had fielded three ineligible players. But the Bordeaux side refused the replay and Stade Français were declared the winners.
- A first final, played on 26 April 1925 in Toulouse, had ended on a 0–0 a.e.t..
- A first final played on 15 May 1949 at Stade des Ponts Jumeaux in Toulouse had ended on a 3–3 draw (a.e.t.).
- Because of the May 1968 events, the finale was played three weeks behind the normal schedule. At the end of regulation the score was 6–6, and 9–9 after extra-time. FC Lourdes were declared champions because they had scored 2 tries to Toulon’s 0 and also because it was impossible to reschedule a third final so late, as France were to leave on a tour to New Zealand and South Africa.
- Béziers won 3 goal-kicks to 1.
- The highest scoring final ever.
- "Top 14 Finale : Clermont-Auvergne – Toulouse". L'Équipe (in French). 2008-06-24. Retrieved 2009-04-01.
- "Top 14 Finale : Perpignan – Clermont". L'Équipe (in French). 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2009-06-06.
- "Top 14 Finale : Perpignan – Clermont". L'Équipe (in French). 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
- "Top 14 Finale : Toulouse – Montpellier". 'L'Équipe (in French). 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-06-10.
- "Castres, vingt ans après". 'L'Équipe (in French). 2013-06-01. Retrieved 2013-06-02.