There are fewer competitive rugby competitions in the world than Top 14. That is complimented by the sheer talent that can be found in the Top 14 teams, with each boasting international talent across the field. The competition is intense in the French top-flight, with the biggest prizes typically seeing at least two sides fighting it out.
As one of the most prestigious competitions on the rugby calendar, it is little surprise that many of the top-tier players in the French rugby squad play their trade in the domestic competition with some of the top teams.
However, the Top 14 teams also offer a pathway to the top of the game for some of the emerging talents at youth level. Here, you can find out more about the French rugby teams in Top 14 and learn what makes each unique in the competition.
- Stade Français
- Racing 92
- La Rochelle
Overview Of The Top 14 Rugby League
Top 14 is one of the most important competitions in the world, as it ensures that there is a bridge between top-flight club action and the French national team. The Top 14 teams have been competing in the competition since it was founded in 1892, with the current name replacing the now defunct Top 16. It is one of three major professional leagues in Europe, alongside the United Rugby Championship and the Premiership and obviously boasts the best French rugby players in the world.
Teams that excel in the Top 14 will have the opportunity to clash with sides in the other major European leagues in the European Rugby Champions Cup, with the winner of that tournament being named the champions of Europe.
The Top 14 is straightforward to understand, as the Top 14 teams compete in a regular season format, with each playing against their rivals on two occasions. Sides that finish in the top two positions progress through to the semi-finals, as well as achieving a berth in the European Rugby Champions Cup. Teams that finish third, fourth, fifth, and sixth will also reach the playoffs, but they will enter at the quarterfinal stage. Meanwhile, French rugby teams Top 14 that finish seventh and eighth will assure a place in the Champions Cup.
The playoffs get underway at the end of the regular season, with the teams that progress from the quarterfinals colliding with the top two in the overall standings. A Grand Final is then set between the two sides that land victory in the semi-final stage. Meanwhile, the Top 14 teams that finish in the bottom two positions are threatened with relegation, with the bottom place team dropping straight into the second tier.
Team-by-Team Analysis: Strengths, Strategies, and Standout Moments
Stade Français are one of the most famous Top 14 teams, with some of their matches throughout the season being staged at the Stade de France. The team are coached by Laurent Labit and Karim Ghezal, and they have been crowned Top 14 champions on 14 previous occasions. However, the success has dried up since their previous triumph in 2015.
There is an excellent mix of international talent within the current Francois side, as they boast impressive England internationals such as Joe Marchant and Zack Henry, as well as improving French stars such as Leo Barre, and Hugo Zabalza. However, more will be expected from the team in the 2023-24 season, as they exited the competition at the quarterfinal stage last term.
Pau were formed in 1902, and they have been one of the most impressive Top 14 teams throughout history. They have won the Bouclier de Brennus on three occasions, and were European Challenge winners in 2000. However, success in recent history has been limited, evident from their weak finish in the Top 14 last season.
However, they could be set for a resurgence this season, with Sam Whitelock joining the side as a key player following the 2023 World Cup. The initial signs are already positive this term, as they have an excellent defensive record and have won five of their six matches to sit second in the standings.
Racing 92 are one of a number of Top 14 teams based in Paris, as they play their home matches at the La Defense Arena. The team were founded in 1890, and they are currently coached by Stuart Lancaster. They enjoyed a progressive campaign in the previous edition of the tournament, as they finished fifth in the overall standings.
Throughout history, they have enjoyed great success, having landed the league title on six occasions. They have certainly started the new season as one of the teams that could be capable of finishing in a playoff spot this term, as they boast the best attacking record at this early stage after registering 166 points.
Castres were officially founded in 1898, but they have been known by their current name since the 1906 season. The team is one of the smallest in the Top 14, as they play their home matches in front of the smallest capacity at the Stade Pierre-Fabre. Throughout history they have achieved great success, including winning five top-division championships between 1949 and 2018.
Last season they would have been disappointed with their efforts as they could only finish ninth in the overall standings under Jeremy Davidson. But, they could be good value to improve on that finish this term after being able to call upon proven international stars such as Santiago Arata, Matheu Babillot, and Gaetan Barlot.
Toulouse has been one of the most dominant Top 14 teams throughout history, having won the European Rugby Champions Cup on five occasions. The team have also won a record 22 Boucliers de Brennus throughout their history, and they have helped develop some of the brightest stars to the national side.
They were excellent throughout last season, as they finished top of the regular standings before falling short in the playoffs. But, they could be excellent value to improve on that performance this term. Their challenge will be headed by some of the most successful French internationals, including Julien Marchand, Antoine Dupont, and Thomas Ramos.
Few Top 14 teams play in a more scenic home stadium than Clermont, as the side are located in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes. The team were founded in 1911, and they have achieved limited success throughout their history. However, they did land a maiden championship in their centenary year in 2010, and they are looking like a strong side once again in 2023.
Clermont currently sits sixth in the overall standings, as they have won four of their opening six matches. However, more emphasis will be put on their defensive play if they are to finish in a playoff spot this term, as they have already allowed more points than any other side in the top eight.
Toulon were founded in 1908, and they play their home matches on the French Riviera at Stade Mayol. The team is one of the most important clubs in the country, as they have won four league titles and two Pro D2 championships during their history. On the continent, they are the only team to have won the European Rugby Champions Cup on three occasions in a row.
Some of the biggest stars have represented the club throughout its history, and that is no different in this modern day. International stars such as Dan Biggar, Ben White, and Gabin Villere continue to ensure that Toulon are one of the most prominent selections when examining the leading French rugby teams Top 14.
Bordeaux Begles are one of the newest teams in the Top 14, as they achieved promotion back to the top-flight for the second time in 2011. They are also one of the youngest teams at this level of the sport, as they were only founded in 2006. But, they are one of the most progressive within the competition.
Bordeaux are now coached by Yannick Bru, as they look to improve on their sixth-place finish in the previous edition of the Top 14.They could be a good bet to achieve that, as they boast no shortage of superstars in the offensive third of the field, including Nans Ducuing, Damian Penaud, and Louis Bielle-Biarrey.
Lyon are one of the newest teams to have entered the Top 14, but they have constantly alternated between playing in the top division and the second tier. However, they have been impressive since returning to the Top 14 in2017, and they enjoyed an excellent campaign in the previous edition when concluding the regular season in third-place.
Improving on that finish is the target that they must now overcome, but they will be boosted by their European Challenge Cup success in 2022, which was their first major honor at the top of the game.
La Rochelle are one of the most synonymous Top 14 teams in France, as they play in a formidable black strip. The team were founded in 1898, and they play their home matches at Stade Marcel-Defiandre. The club have achieved huge success throughout their history, evident that they are one of just two sides that have won the European Rugby Champions Cup without having won a domestic championship.
They achieved yet another fine domestic campaign last term after finishing second in the regular standings, but there was ultimately disappointment after losing in the Top 14 final. But, with players such as Brice Dulin, Pierre Bourgarit, and Joel Sclavi, they could be leading contenders once again this season.
Survival will likely be the target for Bayonne this term, as they finished eighth in the previous edition of the Top 14. They have been a yo-yo club throughout recent history, having alternated between the second and first tiers since 1996. They were previously relegated back to Pro D2 in 2015.
Bayonne will be looking to avoid a nervy end to the season this term, meaning that they will be aiming to get points on the board at an early stage. The early promise is clear for all to see, as they have already picked up two wins from their opening six matches.
Oyonnax have been a welcome addition to the top-flight this term after finishing top of the Pro D2. The team were founded in 1949, and they play their home matches in the mountains. Therefore, Oyonnax boasts the highest stadium in the league, as it situated 532 metres above sea level.
They were excellent as they gained promotion back to the league last term, but they have often struggled when stepping up into the top tier. Oyonnax will already be wary of their position in the current standings, but a run of victories will see them move clear of the bottom two spots.
Montpellier were founded in 1986, and they have been playing their home games at GGL Stadium since 2007. They endured a difficult Top 14 campaign last term, as they could only finish eleventh in the overall standings.
It would be fair to say that a repeat result this season would be something that would appease them at this stage, as they have recorded just one win from their opening six matches. But, they will feel confident that they have the attacking quality required to move back up the standings.
It has been a rude awakening for Perpignan in the Top 14, as they already appear to be in a fight for safety at this early stage. They have won just once in their opening six matches, and they have conceded over 230 points at this very early stage of the season.
The team managed to secure their top-flight status at the end of last season after coming out on top in a relegation playoff. But, they may not be as fortunate in the competition this term.
Emerging Talents In The Top 14: Players To Watch
As one of the most competitive rugby competitions on the planet, there is always bright talent emerging among the Top 14 teams in the French top-flight. Young stars are often given a pathway to the national team if they succeed in the competition, such is the high level of rugby action in the Top 14. We have outlined three players that are well worth watching in the competition this season.
It would be fair to say that Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s star has already risen following a very impressive campaign with France as one of the new stars of the French rugby national team. However, it will be fascinating to see his progression in the competition with Bordeaux Begles this term.
The 20-year-old winger has already scored 47 points in 29 appearances for the team since making his professional debut in 2021, and he could exceed his career-best numbers in the Top 14 this season.
Posolo Tuilagi comes from a rugby family, with his nephew Manu playing for England, and further ancestors playing international rugby for Samoa.
Posolo has already made an impressive start to his professional career, as he was the match-winning hero for Perpignan in their relegation playoff at the end of last season, and he will likely take on greater responsibilities this term to help lift his side away from the relegation spots in Top 14.
There are potentially few more exciting young stars in French rugby at present than Emilien Gailleton. The 20-year-old is the current captain of the French U20 side and has been playing for Pau since signing his first professional debut in December 2021.
His game has already improved since playing in the competition, scoring 70 points in 27 appearances for the team. His performances have already been acknowledged as he picked up the Nuit du Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Season last term.
Future Prospects: Predictions and Expectations For The Upcoming Season
The action among the Top 14 teams is likely to step up a gear following the return to action of the stars that were competing at the World Cup. Therefore, it will be fascinating to see how the league standings transform over the coming months.
Stade Français already appear to have hit their groove, and they could have a solid chance of finishing in one of the top two positions. However, Pau could boast the perfect blend of experience and youth to throw down the most serious challenge for the title in 2024. They have already recorded five wins this term and boast the best defensive record in the competition.
Experience within the Bordeaux Begles and La Rochelle sides will also ensure that they enter the conversation for a playoff finish over the month months. However, it could be a damning season for Perpignan, who look in danger of being cast adrift at the bottom of the standings. Meanwhile, Oyonnax could end up in the relegation playoff spot, as they have struggled defensively over the early months of the campaign.
There are few more competitive rugby competitions on the planet than Top 14, meaning that the action is always intense at both ends of the standings.
That promises to be the case once again in 2023-24, and it will be an unmissable experience for all rugby fans throughout the campaign.