How does the Top 14 work?

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
YearChampionScore of the FinalRunner-up
20 March 1892Racing Club de France4–3Stade Français
19 May 1893Stade Français7–3Racing Club de France
18 March 1894Stade Français18–0Inter NOS
17 March 1895Stade Français16–0Olympique
5 April 1896Olympique12–0Stade Français
1897Stade FrançaisNAOlympique
1898Stade FrançaisNARacing Club de France
30 April 1899Stade Bordelais5–3Stade Français
22 April 1900Racing Club de France37–3Stade Bordelais
31 March 1901Stade FrançaisNAStade Bordelais
23 March 1902Racing Club de France6–0Stade Bordelais
26 April 1903Stade Français16–8SOE Toulouse
27 March 1904Stade Bordelais3–0Stade Français
16 April 1905Stade Bordelais12–3Stade Français
8 April 1906Stade Bordelais9–0Stade Français
24 March 1907Stade Bordelais14–3Stade Français
5 April 1908Stade Français16–3Stade Bordelais
4 April 1909Stade Bordelais17–0Stade Toulousain
17 April 1910FC Lyon13–8Stade Bordelais
8 April 1911Stade Bordelais14–0SCUF
31 March 1912Stade Toulousain8–6Racing Club de France
20 April 1913Aviron Bayonnais31–8SCUF
3 May 1914AS Perpignan8–7Stadoceste Tarbais
1915–1919WW1 saw the top14 was replaced by the Coupe de l’Espérance
25 April 1920Stadoceste Tarbais8–3Racing Club de France
17 April 1921US Perpignan5–0Stade Toulousain
1922-4Stade Toulousain6–0Aviron Bayonnais
1923-5Stade Toulousain3–0Aviron Bayonnais
1924-4Stade Toulousain3–0US Perpignan
1925-5US Perpignan5–0[47]US Carcassonne
1926-5Stade Toulousain11–0US Perpignan
1927-5Stade Toulousain19–9Stade Français
1928-5Section Paloise6–4US Quillan
1929-5US Quillan11–8FC Lézignan
1930-5SU Agen4–0 a.e.t.US Quillan
1931-5RC Toulon6–3Lyon OU
1932-5Lyon OU9–3RC Narbonne
1933-5Lyon OU10–3RC Narbonne
1934-5Aviron Bayonnais13–8Biarritz Olympique
1935-5Biarritz Olympique3–0USA Perpignan
1936-5RC Narbonne6–3AS Montferrand
1937-5CS Vienne13–7AS Montferrand
1938-5USA Perpignan11–6Biarritz Olympique
1939-4Biarritz Olympique6–0 a.e.t.USA Perpignan
1940–1942WW2 no rugby
1943-3Aviron Bayonnais3–0SU Agen
1944-3USA Perpignan20–5Aviron Bayonnais
1945-4SU Agen7–3FC Lourdes
1946-3Section Paloise11–0FC Lourdes
1947-4Stade Toulousain10–3SU Agen
1948-4FC Lourdes11–3RC Toulon
1949-5Castres Olympique14–3Stade Montois
1950-4Castres Olympique11–8Racing Club de France
1951-5US Carmaux14–12 a.e.t.Stadoceste Tarbais
1952-5FC Lourdes20–11USA Perpignan
1953-5FC Lourdes21–16Stade Montois
1954-5FC Grenoble5–3US Cognac
1955-5USA Perpignan11–6FC Lourdes
1956-6FC Lourdes20–0US Dax
1957-5FC Lourdes16–13Racing Club de France
1958-5FC Lourdes25–8SC Mazamet
1959-5Racing Club de France8–3Stade Montois
22 May 1960FC Lourdes14–11AS Béziers
28 May 1961AS Béziers6–3US Dax
27 May 1962SU Agen14–11AS Béziers
2 June 1963Stade Montois9–6US Dax
24 May 1964Section Paloise14–0AS Béziers
23 May 1965SU Agen15–8CA Brive
22 May 1966SU Agen9–8US Dax
28 May 1967US Montauban11–3CA Béglais
16 June 1968FC Lourdes9–9 a.e.t.RC Toulon
18 May 1969CA Béglais11–9Stade Toulousain
17 May 1970La Voulte Sportif3–0AS Montferrand
16 May 1971AS Béziers15–9 a.e.t.RC Toulon
21 May 1972AS Béziers9–0CA Brive
20 May 1973Stadoceste Tarbais18–12US Dax
12 May 1974AS Béziers16–14RC Narbonne
18 May 1975AS Béziers13–12CA Brive
23 May 1976SU Agen13–10 a.e.t.AS Béziers
29 May 1977AS Béziers12–4USA Perpignan
28 May 1978AS Béziers31–9AS Montferrand
27 May 1979RC Narbonne10–0Stade Bagnérais
25 May 1980AS Béziers10–6Stade Toulousain
23 May 1981AS Béziers22–13Stade Bagnérais
29 May 1982SU Agen18–9Aviron Bayonnais
28 May 1983AS Béziers14–6RRC Nice
26 May 1984AS Béziers21–21 a.e.t.SU Agen
25 May 1985Stade Toulousain36–22 a.e.t.RC Toulon
24 May 1986Stade Toulousain16–6SU Agen
22 May 1987RC Toulon15–12Racing Club de France
28 May 1988SU Agen9–3Stadoceste Tarbais
27 May 1989Stade Toulousain18–12RC Toulon
26 May 1990Racing Club de France22–12 a.e.t.SU Agen
1 June 1991CA Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde19–10Stade Toulousain
6 June 1992RC Toulon19–14Biarritz Olympique
5 June 1993Castres Olympique14–11FC Grenoble
28 May 1994Stade Toulousain22–16AS Montferrand
6 May 1995Stade Toulousain31–16Castres Olympique
1 June 1996Stade Toulousain20–13CA Brive
31 May 1997Stade Toulousain12–6CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
16 May 1998Stade Français34–7USA Perpignan
29 May 1999Stade Toulousain15–11AS Montferrand
15 July 2000Stade Français28–23US Colomiers
9 June 2001Stade Toulousain34–22AS Montferrand
8 June 2002Biarritz Olympique25–22 a.e.t.SU Agen
7 June 2003Stade Français32–18Stade Toulousain
26 June 2004Stade Français38–20USA Perpignan
11 June 2005Biarritz Olympique37–34 a.e.t.Stade Français
10 June 2006Biarritz Olympique40–13Stade Toulousain
9 June 2007Stade Français23–18ASM Clermont Auvergne
28 June 2008Stade Toulousain26–20ASM Clermont Auvergne
6 June 2009USA Perpignan22–13ASM Clermont Auvergne
29 May 2010ASM Clermont Auvergne19–6USA Perpignan
4 June 2011Stade Toulousain15–10Montpellier Hérault Rugby
9 June 2012Stade Toulousain18–12RC Toulon
1 June 2013Castres Olympique19–14RC Toulon
31 May 2014RC Toulon18–10Castres Olympique
13 June 2015Stade Français12–6ASM Clermont Auvergne
24 June 2016Racing 9229–21RC Toulon
4 June 2017ASM Clermont Auvergne22–16RC Toulon
2 June 2018Castres Olympique29–13Montpellier Hérault Rugby
15 June 2019Stade Toulousain24–18ASM Clermont Auvergne
2020Season cancelled without champion due to COVID-19 pandemic in France
25 June 2021Stade Toulousain18–8Stade Rochelais
24 June 2022Montpellier Hérault Rugby29–10Castres Olympique
17 June 2023Stade Toulousain29–26Stade 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.

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