The Top 14 is not only the premier French rugby competition, but it is also one of the best rugby competitions in the world. Despite that, a lot of fans outside of France do not know the format of the league. In french Top would be Haut and fourteen quatorze. However, the French refer to the Top 14 as the Top Quatorze, keeping the English pronunciation of top.
How does the Top 14 work? The Top 14 is a French Rugby competition with a round robin format, first contested in 1892. At the end of the season, the top six teams in the league qualify for the Top 14 Finals. It is a knockout competition from there, with the winner of the Final crowned Top 14 champion
The format for rugby competitions all around the world is quite often different. The league does still have some similarities between it and other major domestic European leagues. It is a round robin competition, meaning each team will play every other team in the league twice, once at home and once away.
Just like in every other rugby competition, you get four points for a win, two points for a draw and zero points for a loss. The bonus point rules are slightly different to other competitions. You get a winning bonus point if you score at least three more tries than your opponent.
You get a losing bonus point if you lose by five points or fewer. At the end of the season, the six teams that have the most points qualify for the Top 14 Finals. The teams who finish 3rd to 6th play against each other, with the winner of each game heading to the semi-finals.
The lowest ranked team will play against the highest ranked team in the Top 14 Finals. The winner of each semi final will head to the final of the Top 14. The winner of the Final is crowned Top 14 champions. So the team that finishes the league portion of the season at the top is not guaranteed to win the Top 14.
Both the Semi-finals and the Final are held at neutral venues. Relegation is a threat in the Top 14. The team that finishes 14th are automatically relegated to Pro D2 which is the second tier of French rugby. The team that finishes 13th in a season play the runner up of the Pro D2, with the winner taking the final spot in the Top 14 for the following season.
How does the Top 14 play off work?
While there are other rugby competitions in the world that have a playoff format, there are few that have a format similar to the Top 14. That is mainly because there are six teams that qualify for the Top 14 play offs, not four or eight.
The top two teams get a bye, while the teams that finish 3rd to 6th play against each other. The winners of those games advance to the semi-finals where they play against the top two teams in the league. The two teams that win the semi-finals advance to the Final which is played at a neutral venue.
The winner of the Final is the winner of the Top 14. It doesn’t matter who finishes top of the league at the end of the season, it instead matters who wins the final. So the team that finishes sixth in the Top 14 could still be crowned champions by the time the Top 14 Finals are finished.
Who won the Top 14?
The Top 14 is one of the most exciting leagues in rugby at the moment. But it does not get a huge amount of coverage outside of France, so not many people are aware who the reigning champions are.
Toulouse are the team to most recently win the Top 14. At the end of the 2022-23 Top 14 season, it was Toulouse who were crowned champions. Toulouse were actually the team who finished top of the table at the end of the season. They finished three points ahead of La Rochelle with the best defence in the league.
Despite losing their superstars during international periods, Toulouse were still able to cruise through to the playoffs and were the favourites to win the title. They began with a very difficult match up against a loaded Racing 92 side. But Toulouse made things look extremely easy.
Their physical play style meant that they raced to a huge 34-0 lead at the hour mark and ended the game with a massive win over the Paris based side. The final was going to be a much more difficult affair, facing off against European champions La Rochelle.
It was an incredibly tight and physical final, but La Rochelle held a slim four-point lead with just minutes to go. That was when French Fly-Half Romain Ntamack ran in one of the best individual tries in rugby history, to give Toulouse the lead and the Top 14 title.
This was the 22nd time that Toulouse were crowned French Champions. This is also their third title in the last four years, showing the incredible team that Toulouse have gathered at the moment.
List of Top 14 Champions
|French Top 14 Champions|
|Year||Champion||Score of the Final||Runner-up|
|20 March 1892||Racing Club de France||4–3||Stade Français|
|19 May 1893||Stade Français||7–3||Racing Club de France|
|18 March 1894||Stade Français||18–0||Inter NOS|
|17 March 1895||Stade Français||16–0||Olympique|
|5 April 1896||Olympique||12–0||Stade Français|
|1898||Stade Français||NA||Racing Club de France|
|30 April 1899||Stade Bordelais||5–3||Stade Français|
|22 April 1900||Racing Club de France||37–3||Stade Bordelais|
|31 March 1901||Stade Français||NA||Stade Bordelais|
|23 March 1902||Racing Club de France||6–0||Stade Bordelais|
|26 April 1903||Stade Français||16–8||SOE Toulouse|
|27 March 1904||Stade Bordelais||3–0||Stade Français|
|16 April 1905||Stade Bordelais||12–3||Stade Français|
|8 April 1906||Stade Bordelais||9–0||Stade Français|
|24 March 1907||Stade Bordelais||14–3||Stade Français|
|5 April 1908||Stade Français||16–3||Stade Bordelais|
|4 April 1909||Stade Bordelais||17–0||Stade Toulousain|
|17 April 1910||FC Lyon||13–8||Stade Bordelais|
|8 April 1911||Stade Bordelais||14–0||SCUF|
|31 March 1912||Stade Toulousain||8–6||Racing Club de France|
|20 April 1913||Aviron Bayonnais||31–8||SCUF|
|3 May 1914||AS Perpignan||8–7||Stadoceste Tarbais|
|1915–1919||WW1 saw the top14 was replaced by the Coupe de l’Espérance|
|25 April 1920||Stadoceste Tarbais||8–3||Racing Club de France|
|17 April 1921||US Perpignan||5–0||Stade Toulousain|
|1922-4||Stade Toulousain||6–0||Aviron Bayonnais|
|1923-5||Stade Toulousain||3–0||Aviron Bayonnais|
|1924-4||Stade Toulousain||3–0||US Perpignan|
|1925-5||US Perpignan||5–0||US Carcassonne|
|1926-5||Stade Toulousain||11–0||US Perpignan|
|1927-5||Stade Toulousain||19–9||Stade Français|
|1928-5||Section Paloise||6–4||US Quillan|
|1929-5||US Quillan||11–8||FC Lézignan|
|1930-5||SU Agen||4–0 a.e.t.||US Quillan|
|1931-5||RC Toulon||6–3||Lyon OU|
|1932-5||Lyon OU||9–3||RC Narbonne|
|1933-5||Lyon OU||10–3||RC Narbonne|
|1934-5||Aviron Bayonnais||13–8||Biarritz Olympique|
|1935-5||Biarritz Olympique||3–0||USA Perpignan|
|1936-5||RC Narbonne||6–3||AS Montferrand|
|1937-5||CS Vienne||13–7||AS Montferrand|
|1938-5||USA Perpignan||11–6||Biarritz Olympique|
|1939-4||Biarritz Olympique||6–0 a.e.t.||USA Perpignan|
|1940–1942||WW2 no rugby|
|1943-3||Aviron Bayonnais||3–0||SU Agen|
|1944-3||USA Perpignan||20–5||Aviron Bayonnais|
|1945-4||SU Agen||7–3||FC Lourdes|
|1946-3||Section Paloise||11–0||FC Lourdes|
|1947-4||Stade Toulousain||10–3||SU Agen|
|1948-4||FC Lourdes||11–3||RC Toulon|
|1949-5||Castres Olympique||14–3||Stade Montois|
|1950-4||Castres Olympique||11–8||Racing Club de France|
|1951-5||US Carmaux||14–12 a.e.t.||Stadoceste Tarbais|
|1952-5||FC Lourdes||20–11||USA Perpignan|
|1953-5||FC Lourdes||21–16||Stade Montois|
|1954-5||FC Grenoble||5–3||US Cognac|
|1955-5||USA Perpignan||11–6||FC Lourdes|
|1956-6||FC Lourdes||20–0||US Dax|
|1957-5||FC Lourdes||16–13||Racing Club de France|
|1958-5||FC Lourdes||25–8||SC Mazamet|
|1959-5||Racing Club de France||8–3||Stade Montois|
|22 May 1960||FC Lourdes||14–11||AS Béziers|
|28 May 1961||AS Béziers||6–3||US Dax|
|27 May 1962||SU Agen||14–11||AS Béziers|
|2 June 1963||Stade Montois||9–6||US Dax|
|24 May 1964||Section Paloise||14–0||AS Béziers|
|23 May 1965||SU Agen||15–8||CA Brive|
|22 May 1966||SU Agen||9–8||US Dax|
|28 May 1967||US Montauban||11–3||CA Béglais|
|16 June 1968||FC Lourdes||9–9 a.e.t.||RC Toulon|
|18 May 1969||CA Béglais||11–9||Stade Toulousain|
|17 May 1970||La Voulte Sportif||3–0||AS Montferrand|
|16 May 1971||AS Béziers||15–9 a.e.t.||RC Toulon|
|21 May 1972||AS Béziers||9–0||CA Brive|
|20 May 1973||Stadoceste Tarbais||18–12||US Dax|
|12 May 1974||AS Béziers||16–14||RC Narbonne|
|18 May 1975||AS Béziers||13–12||CA Brive|
|23 May 1976||SU Agen||13–10 a.e.t.||AS Béziers|
|29 May 1977||AS Béziers||12–4||USA Perpignan|
|28 May 1978||AS Béziers||31–9||AS Montferrand|
|27 May 1979||RC Narbonne||10–0||Stade Bagnérais|
|25 May 1980||AS Béziers||10–6||Stade Toulousain|
|23 May 1981||AS Béziers||22–13||Stade Bagnérais|
|29 May 1982||SU Agen||18–9||Aviron Bayonnais|
|28 May 1983||AS Béziers||14–6||RRC Nice|
|26 May 1984||AS Béziers||21–21 a.e.t.||SU Agen|
|25 May 1985||Stade Toulousain||36–22 a.e.t.||RC Toulon|
|24 May 1986||Stade Toulousain||16–6||SU Agen|
|22 May 1987||RC Toulon||15–12||Racing Club de France|
|28 May 1988||SU Agen||9–3||Stadoceste Tarbais|
|27 May 1989||Stade Toulousain||18–12||RC Toulon|
|26 May 1990||Racing Club de France||22–12 a.e.t.||SU Agen|
|1 June 1991||CA Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde||19–10||Stade Toulousain|
|6 June 1992||RC Toulon||19–14||Biarritz Olympique|
|5 June 1993||Castres Olympique||14–11||FC Grenoble|
|28 May 1994||Stade Toulousain||22–16||AS Montferrand|
|6 May 1995||Stade Toulousain||31–16||Castres Olympique|
|1 June 1996||Stade Toulousain||20–13||CA Brive|
|31 May 1997||Stade Toulousain||12–6||CS Bourgoin-Jallieu|
|16 May 1998||Stade Français||34–7||USA Perpignan|
|29 May 1999||Stade Toulousain||15–11||AS Montferrand|
|15 July 2000||Stade Français||28–23||US Colomiers|
|9 June 2001||Stade Toulousain||34–22||AS Montferrand|
|8 June 2002||Biarritz Olympique||25–22 a.e.t.||SU Agen|
|7 June 2003||Stade Français||32–18||Stade Toulousain|
|26 June 2004||Stade Français||38–20||USA Perpignan|
|11 June 2005||Biarritz Olympique||37–34 a.e.t.||Stade Français|
|10 June 2006||Biarritz Olympique||40–13||Stade Toulousain|
|9 June 2007||Stade Français||23–18||ASM Clermont Auvergne|
|28 June 2008||Stade Toulousain||26–20||ASM Clermont Auvergne|
|6 June 2009||USA Perpignan||22–13||ASM Clermont Auvergne|
|29 May 2010||ASM Clermont Auvergne||19–6||USA Perpignan|
|4 June 2011||Stade Toulousain||15–10||Montpellier Hérault Rugby|
|9 June 2012||Stade Toulousain||18–12||RC Toulon|
|1 June 2013||Castres Olympique||19–14||RC Toulon|
|31 May 2014||RC Toulon||18–10||Castres Olympique|
|13 June 2015||Stade Français||12–6||ASM Clermont Auvergne|
|24 June 2016||Racing 92||29–21||RC Toulon|
|4 June 2017||ASM Clermont Auvergne||22–16||RC Toulon|
|2 June 2018||Castres Olympique||29–13||Montpellier Hérault Rugby|
|15 June 2019||Stade Toulousain||24–18||ASM Clermont Auvergne|
|2020||Season cancelled without champion due to COVID-19 pandemic in France|
|25 June 2021||Stade Toulousain||18–8||Stade Rochelais|
|24 June 2022||Montpellier Hérault Rugby||29–10||Castres Olympique|
|17 June 2023||Stade Toulousain||29–26||Stade Rochelais|
Does the Top 14 have relegation?
Some major rugby competitions have removed relegation and promotion from the league in recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are not many competitions which have relegation in rugby at the moment.
The Top 14 does have relegation in its format. At the end of the season, the team who finishes 14th and bottom of the league are automatically relegated to the Pro-D2 which is the second tier of French rugby. This is not the only team who could be relegated from the Top 14 each season.
The team that finishes 13th goes into a relegation playoff. They will play a single game against the runners up of the Pro D2 playoffs. The winner of that game will get the final spot in the Top 14 for the following season.
If the Pro D2 team wins this, they then will accompany the team who won the Pro D2 Finals in playing in the Top 14 the following season.