French Rugby League Championship


July 5, 2022

The French rugby union championship, called Top 14 since 2005, is an annual competition involving the best professional rugby union clubs in France. Created in 1892 under the aegis of the USFSA sports federation, it was then organized by a committee in charge of rugby, before being taken over from the 1921 edition by the very young French Rugby Federation. Since 1998, the National Rugby League has organized it. The winner of the French championship wins the Shield of Brennus as a trophy. During its long history, the French championship has been marked on several occasions by cycles of domination by certain clubs for ten to fifteen years. In chronological order, we note the hegemony of the two Parisian clubs of Racing Club de France and Stade Français Paris (1892-1903), then those of Stade Bordelais (1900s), FC Lourdes (1950s), AS Béziers Hérault (1971-1984) and Stade Toulousain (1920s, then 1985-2001). Between 1994 and 2008, a period synonymous with the beginning of professionalism in French rugby, Stade Toulousain, Stade Français Paris and Olympic Biarritz shared the fifteen titles at stake. This three-way hegemony came to an end in 2009 with the victory of the USA Perpignan and the championship then had different winners including Castres Olympique, RC Toulon, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Racing 92 and Montpellier Hérault rugby, the title winner in 2022. The formula of the championship has been modified several times during its history. With the introduction of professionalism in 1995, the number of clubs in the elite division decreased significantly, from 24 to 16 and then to 14 clubs in 2005. It was thus successively called Top 16, Top 14, Rugby Top 14 Orange following a league partnership with a telephone operator in 2008, then Top 14 again. The championship takes place in two phases: a so-called qualification phase, which is contested by all the teams, and a final phase bringing together the six best clubs (the four best until the 2008-2009 season) of the qualification phase, which is played by direct elimination. Since the 2017-2018 season, the last of this qualifying phase is relegated to Pro D2 and replaced by the winning team of the Pro D2 final, the penultimate plays its maintenance by a play-off against the other Pro D2 finalist. Attracting the best players from both hemispheres to its clubs, earning advantageous TV broadcasting rights, popular with the public that fills the stadiums, the Top 14 is today considered the richest national rugby championship in the world.


Birth of rugby in France

Rugby union was introduced in France around 1870 by Britons working in France. As early as 1872, some of them founded the Havre Athletic Club with which they practiced a hybrid form of rugby and football which they called combination. The first true French rugby club was English Taylors RFC, founded by English businessmen in Paris in 1877, followed by Paris Football Club the following year. It has a short lifespan. Its split led to the formation of Racing Club de France in 1882, Stade Français in 1883 (or 1887) and Olympique in 1888, wholly or partly by Frenchmen. The development of rugby is favored in France by Pierre de Coubertin, passionate about rugby and who wishes to reproduce this English educational model in the major Parisian establishments as a form of physical and moral re-education of the future elites of the country which experienced the defeat of 1870.

The Belle Époque (1890-1914)

The first title of French rugby union champion was awarded on March 20, 1892 following a simple match between R