120 years in the making, how an appetite for rugby led us here
What’s the connection between French club rugby and the Olympic games?
Who are the only three non-French captains to lift the trophy?
Why was the final played outside France?
The answers to these questions and more in our history of the TOP 14
Historic Key Facts
The “Ligue Nationale de Rugby” (LNR) has been a major actor for the development of professional french rugby and especially for TOP 14. The LNR celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and thanks to the gallery below you will find all historical key facts around the french rugby league and TOP 14:
An appetite for rugby grips France
In 1892 a one-off championship game between Racing Club de France and Stade Français decided the first-ever French club champion. That first game was officiated by Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games, and, not as well known, an influential figure in French rugby.
From 1899 non-Parisian teams were allowed to enter, with Stade Bordelais becoming the first winners from outside the capital. In the ten years that followed, Racing Club, Stade Français and Stade Bordelais regularly traded places as champions.
In the years preceding the First World War several clubs claimed their first titles, including FC Lyon, Toulouse and Perpignan.
Following the War, Toulouse won the first of their five titles in ten seasons. They would go on to become the most successful team in French club rugby. Of all time.
‘That’ll be extra time’
The first ever Championship game to go to extra-time was in 1930, when Agen beat US Quillan. The following year Toulon won their first title. In 1939 Biarritz won its second Championship, the last before the suspension of the competition for the Second World War.
Post-war, Castres won back-to-back titles (1949/1950), after which FC Lourdes won six championships in ten years. The 70s belonged to Béziers who won ten championships between 1971 and 1984.
Toulouse, returning to its previous glories, won three of the five titles between 1985 and 1989, with Agen and Toulon also claiming lifting the trophy.
In the six years before rugby became professional, the title was shared between five teams: Stade Français, Bordeaux Bègles, Toulon, Castres and Toulouse.
Professional rugby – and a slimmed down competition
Professional rugby changed everything. The number of teams in the league was reduced from 32 to 20. Toulouse continued where it left off and beginning another period of domestic dominance; with titre wins in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001.
Sandwiched in-between, Stade Français won its first title since 1908; demolishing Perpignan 34-7, to win the first ever final hosted at the newly constructed Stade de France, in front of 78,000 supporters.
In 2001, the league became known as the TOP 16, as the number of teams in the league was again reduced, this time to 16. It stayed like this for four seasons; two more teams were dropped from the division to give a more competitive edge to the tournament and it became TOP 14.
The popularity of the competition rose dramatically in the 2005/06 season, with the average attendance rising by 25% from the previous season. A game between Stade Français and Toulouse, in October 2005, was attended by over 79,000 fans, breaking the French record for attendance at a regular league game in any sport by over 20,000 people. This record was broken three further times by Stade Français in the following 15 months.
In August 2016, the TOP 14 announced it would be imposing relegation into the league. The bottom side at the end of the season would be relegated and replaced with the team who finished top of the Pro D2 whilst the second bottom team would enter a play-off match with the runners-up from the Pro D2.
The final of the 2016 TOP 14 would be the first, and to this date, the only final to be hosted outside France. Due to the hosting of Euro 2016, France could not find a stadium to play the final in, therefore the event was staged at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
The Bouclier de Brennus trophy
Named after Charles Brennus, co-founder of the USFSA, the Bouclier de Brennus is the trophy awarded to the winner of the TOP 14. Sculpted by Brennus himself, using the original design by Pierre de Coubertin, the shield has deeply intrenched roots in the history of French sporting folklore.
The official trophy is now retired, having suffered from 100 years of over-exuberant celebration! It had been used as a skateboard, surfboard, a plate, and for an activity known as ‘Bouclier de Brennus Human Bowling’. A replica is now presented to the TOP 14 winning team.
At one metre high, 75 centimetres wide and 2.5 centimetres thick, along with a copper disc 52 centimetres in diameter, the Bouclier de Brennus is one of the biggest trophies in European sport. It weighs in at 22 kilograms, nearly five times heavier than the Web Ellis Cup.
Since the sport became professional in 1995, legendary winning captains Pelous, Rougerie, Szarzewski and Dousatoir. Only three non-French players have lifted the trophy - Sergio Parisse, Jonny Wilkinson and, most recently, All-Black and two-time World Cup winner, Jerome Kaino.