Few nations are as passionate about their rugby as France. The popularity of the sport has reached unparalleled heights in recent years, coinciding with the hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Success on the field has certainly helped the progression of the sport, but it still has some way to go before it can match football as the national sport within France.
Below, we will go through some of the leading French rugby teams throughout history and assess the French rugby clubs that have achieved long-standing victories that continue to be spoken about among fans in the nation.
The Glory of French Rugby Teams
Stade Francois (1893-1898)
The Top 14 continues to host the best French rugby team in history, as Stade Francois is rightly regarded among the very best within the nation. Following the inception of Top 14 for the top French rugby teams in 1892, Francois immediately became the standout side. Francois would become the first powerhouse of the domestic game, winning every championship in succession between 1893 and 1899.
The long-standing success of the team would continue throughout the early 1900s, reaching the championship final on seven occasions. Further successes would continue throughout history, with their 2015 Top 14 win being their 14th overall and their first in eight seasons.
Stade Toulousain (1922-1927)
Stade Toulousain is the most successful team in the history of Top 14 rugby, having landed 22 wins and seven runners-up finishes throughout history. However, their first dynasty would take place between the 1922 and 1927 seasons, winning every championship over the six-year period.
The domination on field made them one of the most unique French rugby team in history, and while further continued success would follow, it would be their first run of championships that would see them emerge from the shadows of their local rivals.
AS Beziers (1971-1984)
While AS Beziers are now a shadow of their former selves, it’s hard to overlook the esteemed success that the team enjoyed between 1971 and 1984 when it comes to the most dominant French rugby team. Founded in 1911, the team quickly became one of the most significant teams in France, winning 13 championships between 1971 and 1984.
While the team would come up short on a number of occasions during that period, they showed the character of champions to come back stronger in the following campaign. Their period of dominance came to an end in 1984 with a final Top 14 title, and those memories are now in the past, as the team are regularly in action in the second tier.
The introduction of the European Champions Cup in 1995 opened a new passage in rugby, as club teams had the opportunity to fight for major European success, just as football teams do in the Champions League. French teams have landed victories on eleven occasions, but few have matched the dominance achieved by Toulon between 2012 and 2015.
The French rugby team remains the only side in history to have landed three European Rugby Champions Cup victories in a row and made history in 2014 by winning the domestic league and European cup honor in the same campaign. Notable wins have dried up since 2015, but their victories on the field remain among the most prominent in the history of French rugby.
France National Team (2022-2023)
Ahead of France hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the nation was in need of a team that could dare locals to dream that the unlikely could become possible. Spearheaded by the irrepressible Antoine Dupont, and led by Fabien Galthie, the French rugby team between 2022 and 2023 ensured that popularity within the nation reached heights that we haven’t previously seen.
France dominated the 2022 Six Nations, landing a tenth Grand Slam title, before defeating New Zealand in their opening match at the 2023 World Cup. However, their dream of a first World Cup success would eventually come up short after an agonizing defeat against South Africa, but a first win at the highest level has never seemed closer.
French Rugby Team Line Ups: A Blend Of Tradition and Talent
French rugby teams throughout history have always possessed a huge amount of skill and talent, which means it is a constant surprise that they haven’t yet been able to win the World Cup.
The French rugby team line up is often scrutinized by fans across the country, but who have been some of the standout players to represent the nation?
There have been few more celebrated players to have been named in the French rugby team line up throughout history than Fabien Pelous. The lock is the most-capped player in his position at international level, with 100 of his 118 appearances for the French rugby team coming in that area of the field.
Pelous holds the record for the most appearances for Stade Toulousain and the French rugby team, and his accomplishments on the field saw him inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2017.
Serge Blanco was a regular starter in the French rugby team line up throughout his career between 1980 and 1991. Blanco represented the national side on 93 occasions, scoring an impressive 233 points. He retired from the national game having recorded an international-high of 38 tries.
That means that he averaged a try every 0.41. Blanco achieved huge success throughout his career with France, playing his part in Grand Slam glories in both 1981 and 1987. Such was his influence on the sport, Blanco was among the inaugural inductees into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
If there is a player that epitomizes everything that the French rugby teams stands for in this modern day, then it is Antoine Dupont. The French captain has been regarded as one of the greatest players in the modern era and has played a key role in the success achieved by Toulouse and the national side.
He has picked up the Six Nations Player of the Championship award on three occasions and was named the World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in 2021. Dupont will continue to be a key player for French rugby clubs moving forward in the chase to achieve more success.
Where Do The French Rugby Team Play: Iconic Stadiums and Venues
The French rugby team has played at some of the most famous arenas across the country throughout its history, with its current home being the Stade de France in Paris. The stadium hosted France in the majority of their World Cup matches, and typically houses the side throughout their Six Nations fixtures in the modern era.
This arena was originally built for the 1998 World Cup, but it hosted matches at the 2023 Rugby World Cup and will host events at the 2024 Olympics. In total, the stadium can host up to 78,338 fans.
If you were wondering where do the French rugby team play before moving into the Stade de France, then they played frequently at the Parc Des Princes before 1997. The stadium is the home of Ligue 1 giants PSG, but it was used to host the 1954 and 1972 Rugby League World Cups, and matches at the 1991 and 2007 Rugby World Cup.
One of the first homes of the French rugby teams was Stade Yves-du-Manoir in Colombes. The stadium was named in honour of legendary player Yves du Manoir, and it famously hosted events during the 1924 Summer Olympics.
Since its inception, the attendances that can be house at the arena have dropped, with around 15,000 fans expected to be allowed entry for the Summer Olympics in 2024. At present, the last rugby matches to be staged at the arena were in 1972.
French Rugby League Teams: Beyond Union Rugby
While rugby union has continued to gain in terms of popularity, it’s fair to say that the popularity of the leading French rugby league teams have diminished throughout recent history.
The code reached its peak popularity following the Second World War, as the national side became one of the most dominant forces. That was mirrored by the fact that the French rugby team reached the Rugby League World Cup final in 1954, before being edged out by Great Britain at the Parc des Princes.
Domestic league action was much slower to gain pace in the country, with just two French rugby teams proposing a Super League in 1995. This idea was ultimately scrapped in October 1997, with French teams instead encouraged to join the Super League in the United Kingdom.
The golden age of French rugby league teams came throughout the 1960s, as they enjoyed some of the nation’s biggest wins in the code. The standout of those was a series victory against Australia in 1967-68.
France’s progression continued to be on full display at the 1968 Rugby League World Cup, but they were eventually beaten in the showpiece event by the Aussies. Further success would be achieved over Australia in the 1978 test series between the sides on home soil. Still, the wait for World Cup success would continue.
The Catalans Dragons remain the only non-English team to compete in the Super League, having been founded in 2000. They joined the competition in 2005 and have since become one of the most successful French rugby teams to play in the competition.
The Dragons landed a first major honor in 2018, winning the Challenge Cup in front of over 50,000 fans at Wembley Stadium against Warrington Wolves. They would later win the League Leaders’ Shield in 2021, before losing in the Grand Final against St Helens at Old Trafford. The Dragons would reach the Grand Final once again in 2023, but they were beaten in the final by Wigan.
Future Of France Rugby League
The performances of French rugby teams in major competitions since finishing third in 1972 have been extremely disappointing. That is highlighted by the fact that they have exited the Rugby League World Cup in the group stage in each of the previous two editions of the tournament.
However, there will be expectation on the shoulders of the national side going forward, as it was recently announced that the 2025 World Cup will be hosted in France. This marks the first time since France’s third-place finish in 1972 that the nation will be hosting the prestigious tournament.
We have gone through some of the most successful French rugby teams in history above, highlighting the achievements that teams have made both at club and international level.
We have also gone into detail about some of the best players to have played the game in France and examined the state of rugby league in France ahead of their task of hosting the 2025 World Cup. Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that the sport of rugby has never had a brighter outlook than in this modern day.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many French Rugby Teams Have Made It To The World Cup Finals?
Three French rugby teams have made it to the World Cup final. However, the national side has never won the major competition.
Who Are the Most Iconic Players in the French Rugby Team History?
Fabien Pelous is one of the most iconic French players in history, having represented his nation on a record 118 occasions.
What Is the Selection Process for the French Rugby Team Line Up?
The task of selecting the French squad is down to the head coach, which is currently Fabien Galthie.
Where Do the French Rugby Team Play Their Home Games?
The French rugby team play their home matches at the Stade de France, near Paris. Matches were previously played at the Parc des Princes before 1998.
What Differences Exist Between French Rugby League Teams and Union Teams?
Aside from the codes complying with different rules, the national league side attracts smaller attendances, with union being the most popular code of rugby in France.