French rugby union system
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The major national club competition in France is the Top 14 (formerly, the Top 16). The Top 14 is played on a home and away basis between the top fourteen club sides in France. The second major competition in France is the Rugby Pro D2 competition. A relegation system exists between the two tiers of competition. Both competitions are operated by Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR).
There exists a promotion and relegation system between the Top 14 and Pro D2. From the 2017–18 season, the bottom club after the regular season is relegated to Pro D2 and replaced by the Pro D2 champion, now determined by a six-team knockout playoff. The second-from-bottom Top 14 side enters a playoff with the runner-up of the Pro D2 playoffs, with the winner either remaining in or promoted to Top 14. Since the 2009–10, the knock-out stages for the Top 14 have involved six teams and consist of three rounds. The top two teams on the ladder receive a bye into the semi-finals, while the next four teams on the ladder play in the first round, with the third-and fourth-place teams each hosting a match. The winners of those matches face the top two teams in the semi-finals, which are held at neutral sites, and the semi-final winners advance to the final at Stade de France (the traditional site, although the 2016 final was held at Camp Nou in Barcelona due to conflict with UEFA Euro 2016).
With Europe's former top club competition, the Heineken Cup, being superseded by the European Rugby Champions Cup from 2014–15, the qualification method for all nations changed slightly. This, however, did not affect the number of French teams assured of Champions Cup qualification—as in the Heineken Cup era (1996–2014), six Top 14 teams are assured of Champions Cup places in the following season. Currently, the top six teams on the Top 14 table earn Champions Cup places. A seventh French club can qualify by winning a play-off following the club season. From the 2016–17 season forward, this playoff will involve the seventh-place teams from the Top 14 and English Premiership, plus the top two teams from Pro14 that (1) did not automatically qualify for the Champions Cup and (2) are not from South Africa.
All Top 14 teams that do not qualify for the Champions Cup, including the teams newly promoted from Pro D2, will play in the Challenge Cup.
Pro D2 is the second level of domestic club rugby, below the first division, Top 14. At present, 16 clubs compete in the competition.
Beginning in 2017–18, Pro D2 adopted a playoff system identical to that used by the Top 14, with the first- and second-place teams receiving byes into the semifinals, where they await winners of quarterfinals that involve the third- through sixth-place teams. The winner of the playoff becomes the league champion and receives automatic promotion to the next season's Top 14; the runner-up enters a playoff with the 13th-place team from Top 14, with the winner either remaining in or promoted to Top 14. This replaced a system in which the top club at the end of the season was automatically promoted to the Top 14, with the 2nd through 5th place teams playing each other for the second promotion place.
The bottom two are automatically relegated to Fédérale 1. Effective in 2017–18, the teams involved in the next Pro D2 season are:
- The bottom club of the previous Top 14 season.
- The loser of the previous season's promotion/relegation playoff.
- The remaining entrants in the Pro D2 playoffs, plus all other teams finishing 14th or better in Pro D2.
- The champion of Fédérale 1.
- Through 2019–20, one "wild card" promotion from Fédérale 1, as determined by LNR. Only teams from northern France (with the dividing line running roughly from La Rochelle to Lyon) are eligible to receive this promotion place.
The "wild card" promotion is part of an LNR initiative to expand the sport outside of its traditional southern base, which will also include a third fully professional league below Pro D2 planned for a 2020–21 launch.
8 teams compete on a round-robin basis (14 games) in each of the 6 groups. The top 4 teams of each group move into the play-offs (Trophée Jean-Prat), the bottom 4 move into play-downs
The lowest ranked 24 teams from the preliminary phase play another round-robin competition in 4 groups of 6. Points scored in the preliminary phase are kept. Teams only play teams from other groups. The top 2 teams of each group move on to a sudden death competition (quarter-finals, semi-finals, final), at the end of which an honorary title is awarded. The bottom 3 teams of each group (12 in all) are relegated to Fédérale 2.
The top 24 teams from the preliminary phase play another round-robin competition in 6 groups of 4. Points scored in the preliminary phase are not kept. Teams only play teams from other groups. The best four top clubs are automatically qualified for the quarter finals. The other two top clubs and the six n°2 clubs have to fight it out in a play-off game to get into the quarter finals. The two finalists are promoted to Pro D2 and play for the championship. In the past, the losing semifinalists played for a third ticket to Pro D2, but no longer do so after the operator of the professional leagues, LNR, reduced the number of promotion places to two.
At the end of each season, two teams are promoted to Pro D2, and 12 relegated into Fédérale 2.
Fédérale 3 is the fifth division of rugby union in France. The competition involves a very large number of clubs, and winners can progress up into higher division of competition. The competition above Fédérale 3 is Fédérale 2.
- Mortimer, Gavin (18 August 2016). "French rugby enjoys a popularity boom as it looks to the future". Rugby World. Retrieved 12 February 2017.