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.

Below the professional leagues is the Fédérale 1, Fédérale 2, Fédérale 3 and a number of lower leagues.

Top 14[edit]

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 in 2009–10, the knock-out stages for the Top 14 involve 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 qualification criteria for European competition also changed for 2009–10. Normally, the top six teams on the ladder will qualify for the following season's Heineken Cup. The winners of the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup will also qualify for the next Heineken Cup. The exact number and identity of qualifying teams will depend on a number of factors, but will always be either six or seven.

  • Seven teams will qualify if:
    • A French team wins either or both of the European competitions. If French teams win both, only five teams will earn Heineken Cup berths by league position, as France is capped at seven Heineken Cup participants.
    • Teams from England's Aviva Premiership, also capped at seven Heineken Cup places, win both European competitions, and the team that lies highest in the European Rugby Cllub Rankings among those that have not already qualified for the Heineken Cup is French.

All Top 14 teams that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup, including the teams newly promoted from Pro D2, will play in the Challenge Cup.

Pro D2[edit]

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.

Fédérale 1[edit]

Preliminary phase

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

Second phase

  • 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.

  • Play-offs

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 2[edit]

Fédérale 2 is the fourth division of rugby above Fédérale 3. Teams can earn promotion to Fédérale 1.

Fédérale 3[edit]

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.

See also[edit]