French rugby union system
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The major national club competition in France is the Top 14 (formerly, the Top 16). The Top 14 is played on a home and away basis between the top fourteen club sides in France. The second major competition in France is the Rugby Pro D2 competition. A relegation system exists between the two tiers of competition.
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. Since the 2009–10, the knock-out stages for the Top 14 have involved six teams and consist of three rounds. The top two teams on the ladder receive a bye into the semi-finals, while the next four teams on the ladder play in the first round, with the third-and fourth-place teams each hosting a match. The winners of those matches face the top two teams in the semi-finals, which are held at neutral sites, and the semi-final winners advance to the final at Stade de France (the traditional site, although the 2016 final will be held at Camp Nou in Barcelona due to conflict with UEFA Euro 2016).
With Europe's former top club competition, the Heineken Cup, being superseded by the European Rugby Champions Cup from 2014–15, the qualification method for all nations changed slightly. This, however, did not affect the number of French teams assured of Champions Cup qualification—as in the Heineken Cup era (1996–2014), six Top 14 teams are assured of Champions Cup places in the following season. Currently, the top six teams on the Top 14 table earn Champions Cup places. A seventh French club can qualify by winning a play-off following the club season. From the 2016–17 season forward, this playoff will involve the seventh-place teams from the Top 14 and English Premiership, plus the top two teams from Pro12 that did not automatically qualify for the Champions Cup.
All Top 14 teams that do not qualify for the Champions Cup, including the teams newly promoted from Pro D2, will play in the Challenge Cup.
Pro D2 is the second level of domestic club rugby, below the first division, Top 14. At present, 16 clubs compete in the competition.
The top club at the end of the season is automatically promoted to the Top 14; the 2nd through 5th place teams play each other for the second promotion.
The bottom two are automatically relegated to Fédérale 1. The bottom two clubs of the Top 14 and the top two of Fédérale 1 then enter the Rugby Pro D2 for the next season.
8 teams compete on a round-robin basis (14 games) in each of the 6 groups. The top 4 teams of each group move into the play-offs (Trophée Jean-Prat), the bottom 4 move into play-downs
The lowest ranked 24 teams from the preliminary phase play another round-robin competition in 4 groups of 6. Points scored in the preliminary phase are kept. Teams only play teams from other groups. The top 2 teams of each group move on to a sudden death competition (quarter-finals, semi-finals, final), at the end of which an honorary title is awarded. The bottom 3 teams of each group (12 in all) are relegated to Fédérale 2.
The top 24 teams from the preliminary phase play another round-robin competition in 6 groups of 4. Points scored in the preliminary phase are not kept. Teams only play teams from other groups. The best four top clubs are automatically qualified for the quarter finals. The other two top clubs and the six n°2 clubs have to fight it out in a play-off game to get into the quarter finals. The two finalists are promoted to Pro D2 and play for the championship. In the past, the losing semifinalists played for a third ticket to Pro D2, but no longer do so after the operator of the professional leagues, LNR, reduced the number of promotion places to two.
At the end of each season, two teams are promoted to Pro D2, and 12 relegated into Fédérale 2.
Fédérale 3 is the fifth division of rugby union in France. The competition involves a very large number of clubs, and winners can progress up into higher division of competition. The competition above Fédérale 3 is Fédérale 2.