There are few more popular competitions in the world of sport than Top 14 Rugby. This competition has been a mainstay for some of the world’s best players since its inception in 1892, and the French competition continues to be one of the top competitions in the world of rugby union for some of the best players on the planet.
Fans often wonder what is Top 14 rugby but easily put, it is the top level of domestic club action in France, with the top performers in the league gaining entry to the European Rugby Champions Cup. Meanwhile, poor performing teams in the French Rugby Top 14 are handed relegation to Rugby Pro D2. You can find out everything you need to know about Top 14 rugby right here.
What Is Top 14?
Top 14 Rugby is the top tier of domestic club competition in France and was created in 1892. The league sits top of the French pyramid, with the worst performing teams relegated to the second tier and Rugby Pro D2. As the name suggests, 14 teams compete in the Top 14 every season, and it makes up one of three major professional rugby leagues in Europe.
The Top 14 season runs between August and June, with every team involved playing 26 rounds of matches. Teams that finish in the top six places progress to the playoffs, with the teams that finish between fourth and sixth playing in a semi-final qualifier. The two teams that progress from this stage will then play against the teams that finished first and second in the table to determine the sides that will square off in the final.
History and Evolution of Top 14 Rugby League
The Top 14 rugby league was first born in the 1870s after the sport was introduced in France by British workers, which led to the formation of Havre Athletic Club, the first cross-code team in France. It wasn’t until 1892 that the first rugby fixture was played, with Racing Club de France landing victory over Stade Francais.
Breaks in play were examined during the two World Wars, before Lourdes enjoyed a dominant period between 1945 and 1960, winning the top-flight title on seven occasions. Beziers were the next club to achieve prolonged success, as the team won ten championships between 1971 and 1984.
The biggest strides toward the formation of the Top 14 rugby as we know it today came in 1994, as three teams turned professional. However, the competitive landscape emerged in 2007 as eight champions were crowned across 14 years following the introductions of teams such as Toulon and Montpellier.
Still, popularity in terms of viewers of Top 14 rugby didn’t reach its height until the 2005-06 season, with attendances nearing 9,800, which was a massive 25% increase based on the figures from the previous season. The attendance record would be broken regularly over the following seasons, including when 79,741 fans attended the showdown between Stade Francais and Toulouse in January 2007.
One of the most popular ways when it comes to how to watch Top 14 rugby was in Canal+ during the 2000s, and the viewing figures highlighted the clear growth of the sport. The broadcaster revealed that between 800,000 and 850,000 viewers were watching evening matches in the competition in 2011, compared to 700,000 viewers that typically watched the afternoon matches in the competition.
The biggest changes to Top 14 rugby came into effect in August 2016, as it was revealed that plans would be put in place ahead of hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup. That included significance changes impacting the development of players. Also included was the fact that only the team that finishes bottom of the standings would suffer relegation, and only the champions in Pro D2 were promoted.
There have been some huge stories off the field throughout the history of the competition, including in March 2017 when French rugby was rocked by the news that Stade Francais and Racing 92 would merge. However, player-power eventually won this battle, as the merger collapsed just under a week later.
Some of the biggest teams in French Rugby Top 14 have landed success in the tournament, with the most successful being Stade Toulousain, who have landed 22 wins and seven runner-up finishes. Stade Francais is the second most successful teams with 14 victories. AS Beziers is the only other team to have won more than ten titles, with their victories coming between 1961 and 1984.
What Top 14 Rugby Teams Should I Look Out For?
Only the best clubs in France make up the Top 14 rugby competition, and there are some of the most prestigious that actively participate in the tournament.
Stade Toulousain is one of the most successful in the modern era, as they won a 22nd championship at the conclusion of the 2023 season. The team have also won seven titles since 2000. Furthermore, they have also won the Heineken Cup on five previous occasions, including a victory in 2021.
La Rochelle is one of the most popular teams in Top 14 Rugby, having gained huge success since their formation in 1898. However, despite regularly finishing in the playoffs, the team has finished no better than runners-up in the Top 14.
Nonetheless, they have twice landed victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup, landing back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023.
LOU Rugby, from Lyon, is one of the most popular Top 14 teams located outside of the French capital, and they have been a growing force in the top-tier since gaining promotion for the second time in 2015-16.
Domestic success has been hard to achieve throughout recent history, but they continue to progress, evident from the fact that they won the Challenge Cup in 2022.
Stade Francais is one of the most successful teams in French rugby, having continued to dominate following the merger in 1995.
The Paris-based club has been crowned champions on 14 different occasions throughout its history, including most recently in 2015. They have also won the European Challenge Cup and the Coupe de France.
Famous Top 14 Rugby Stadiums
As one of the most popular sporting competitions in Europe, there are some state-of-the-art stadiums used throughout the French rugby Top 14 season. The biggest of those is Stade de Gerland, where Lyon play their home matches.
It was opened in 1926, before being expanded in 1998 to accommodate 35,000 spectators. The stadium has been a hugely popular location for some of the biggest sporting events, with matches during the 2007 Rugby World Cup staged at the arena. Meanwhile, Stade de Gerland has also been used to host matches at the football EUROs, and the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
The second biggest stadium in Top 14 rugby is Stade Chaban-Delmas, with Union Bordeaux Begles playing their home matches at the location. This stadium was opened in 1924, before it was expanded to hold 34,462 fans in 2008. It has hosted huge sporting events that have been staged across France, including matches at the 1983 and 1998 FIFA World Cups. Furthermore, the stadium hosted matches at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Paris La Defense is one of the most unique stadiums in France, as it is a multi-purpose arena located in the middle of Paris. It was opened in October 2017, with Racing 92 using the location to replace their former stadium at Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir. It is one of just two multi-purpose arenas in Europe, but La Defense is the largest indoor arena. For rugby matches, it is able to house 30,681 fans, and the location will host swimming at the upcoming 2024 Olympics.
How To Watch Top 14 Rugby Matches Live
Top 14 Rugby is one of the most popular sporting competitions in Europe, meaning that fans are often wondering how to watch Top 14 rugby. Broadcasting rights for the competition differ depending on the location where you are planning to watch the latest action, meaning that is often worth setting up accounts with some of the leading providers based on where you live.
For those wondering what channel is Top 14 rugby on in France, you will be able to watch matches throughout the regular season on Groupe Canal+. Meanwhile, the Grand Final at the end of the season is more straightforward when it comes to how to watch Top 14 Rugby, as it can be found on France Televisions.
Rugby is among the most watched sports in the United Kingdom, and fans looking to find how to watch Top 14 Rugby in UK can find the latest action every week on ViaPlay Sports. However, the broadcasting contract is up for renewal at the end of 2023. Fans in Ireland can watch the latest action in France’s top-flight on Premier Sports.
International fans will also be looking at how to watch French Top 14 rugby throughout the season, as some of the biggest global stars play in the competition. Australian fans can watch the action on BeIN Sports, while Canada and fans in the United States can watch live action via FloSports.
If you’re living in New Zealand and wondering where I can watch Top 14 rugby on TV, then it is available at Sky Sport via BeIN Sports. South African coverage is provided by SABC, while Japanese viewers can watch the action on TV Asahi.
We have gone through all the key factors that fans of Top 14 Rugby should be aware of before watching the action throughout the season. That includes examining the history of the competition and pinpointing the leading teams in the competition.
Meanwhile, we have also gone through some of the standout stadiums in the league, and how fans can watch the latest action throughout the campaign.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Does the Top 14 Rugby Season Start?
Top 14 Rugby gets underway every year in August, before the Grand Final is slated for the final weekend in June.
Who are the Current Top 14 Rugby Champions?
Toulouse are the current Top 14 rugby champions after they defeated La Rochelle 29-26 in the Grand Final in June 2022.
Can International Fans Follow Top 14 Rugby?
International fans can watch Top 14 rugby action throughout the season with the relevant subscription. You can find out more above.
Where Can I Find Top 14 Rugby Merchandise?
Every team in Top 14 rugby has an official store that fans can access to buy merchandise. This can also be accessed via the official league website.
How to Watch Top 14 Rugby in UK?
Fans in the UK can watch Top 14 Rugby on ViaPlay Sports.
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