The French Top 14 is the professional Rugby Union league in France. The 14 best rugby union teams in France compete in this tournament, hence the name Top 14. Promotion and relegation exists between the Top 14 and the Rugby Pro D2 which is considered one level down. The Top 14 started in 1892 and has been held annually except in 1915-19 and 1940-1942 because of the two World Wars.
Top 14 sides play a total of 26 games during the season. Throughout the August-June competition, there are breaks in between due to European club fixtures where French teams or players from the French teams are involved. Starting 2017-18, only the lowest-ranked team on the Top 14 table is relegated to Pro D2. On the other hand, the playoff champion in Pro D2 is promoted to the Top 14 the following year.
The Top 14 serves as the qualification tournament for French teams in European club competition. Under the new system, the Top 6 teams on the Top 14 table qualify for the Champions Cup. The 7th ranked team advances to a playoff for a spot in the Champions Cup. All Top 14 teams that do not qualify for the Champions Cup will move on to the Challenge Cup. This means that all Top 14 sides will participate in European competition during the course of the season.
French Top 14 clubs have found success in European competition. The first ever Heineken Cup was won by Toulouse. They would claim three more Heineken Cups in 2003, 2005 and 2010 during which two French teams competed in the final. There were two other instances when two French sides fought for the Heineken Cup. Toulon defeated Clermont twice in 2013 and 2015.
Toulouse is the winningest team in the Top 14 competition as they have won 19 titles. Last year Castres Olympique defeated Montpellier Herault Rugby with the score of 29-13 to claim their fifth Top 14 title.
Who Are The Favorites?
This year, the Top 14 season has already completed 24 rounds of regular season play. Round 25 will be on May 18-19, 2019 while the final round will be on May 25, 2019. Here’s how the standings look so far:
Perpignan has already been relegated to the Pro D2. On the other hand, Toulouse and Clermont have claimed the Top 2 seeds in the playoffs and are automatically seeded to the semifinals. The next four seeds which will play in the quarterfinals are not yet finalized.
Currently, Lyon, La Rochelle, Castres and Racing occupy the four quarterfinals slots. But since winning teams receive 4 points and there are still two games (two rounds) left to play in the regular season, Montpellier, Stade Francais and Bordeaux Begles are still mathematically in contention because they can still get to at least 65 points which would be at least higher than current 6th placer Racing who has 64 points if the latter loses its last two games.
Here are the odds to win the 2019 French Top 14 Rugby Grand Final. Odds take from William Hill as of 5/16/19:
Earlier in the season, Toulouse set a new Top 14 record with 14 consecutive league victories without a defeat. The previous record was 11 straight wins set by the Stade Ernest-Wallon in 2011-12 when they won the title. La Rochelle also matched the feat five years later.
Although Toulouse would go 2-2 from Rounds 21 to 24, they have been the dominant team in the Top 14 this season. Also, they defeated #2 team Clermont in dramatic fashion during their Round 22 matchup. In that game, Toulouse and Clermont shared 10 tries and it all went down to Sofiane Guitoune’s 77th-minute effort, his second of the match, that proved to be decisive in Toulouse’s 47-44 victory.
Toulouse is the rugby betting favorite to win the Top14 title this year at +125 and Clermont is right with them at +163. But when you look at these two teams, Toulouse is just a notch better than their top-of-the-table rivals. With these teams already booked in the semifinals, I expect them to meet in the final. Given Toulouse’s form and recent win over their rivals, I’m picking the favorites to win the Top 14 title this year. Prediction: Toulouse