As the Top 14 draws to a close, Christophe Roche takes you through the final leg of a process that will decide this season’s champions
The season’s decider is coming to an end!
So many weeks of hard training and tough games will soon decide who will reach the play-offs and who will be downgraded to the Pro D2.
How does this work, you might ask? Top 14 stands for 14 teams battling on, week on, week off, for the so-called “Bouclier de Brennus” i.e. the Holy Grail of French Rugby.
Out of the 14 teams, the first 7 qualify for the play-offs. The one who finishes on top automatically goes straight through to the semi-final, whereas the other 6 teams qualify for a quarter-final spot. The second-placed team plays the seventh, the third plays the sixth and the fourth plays the fifth. You get the knack of it!
That’s what happens to the “lucky first seven”. As for the bottom three, they will have to leave the Top 14. Biarritz was the first confirmed casualty. Who’s next? The odds are high for Oyonnax and Perpignan to leave the “elite” next year but Bayonne are far from feeling safe.The good news story is that of LOU, which stands for Lyon Olympique Universitaire. This is the team that has
topped the Pro D2 and will play next year in the Top 14. Why is this such good news?
Three years ago, LOU managed to play one year in Top 14 but their success was short-lived and they went back down to Pro D2, where they remained for three years. Two former internationals and very good friends, Sébastien Chabal (the Caveman) and Lionnel Nallet stated that they had a “mission” (some would have said “mission impossible”) to help bring their team back up to the top flight.
Now, they’ve done it and, as always in rugby, this good-news story is not about two guys but about the team. They won the Pro D2 title and they will be in Top 14 next year. It would have been Chabal’s last hurrah but for Nallet, the odds are still high for him to come back to the Top 14 one more time!
With Lyon to play next year in the Top 14, this will bring something of a change from the so-called South Strip (going from the Basque Region,through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast) where all the rugby teams traditionally come from, with the exception of Clermont, Racing Métro and Stade Français.
Another team who could reach the semi-final of the Pro D2 and lying currently in third place is Atlantique Stade Rochelais. Readers of Tootlafrance would have read about how former Connacht player David McGowan got on at this club for a few seasons. Well, La Rochelle could also qualify for Top 14 to help Lyon to demonstrate that
rugby in France is played everywhere with the same passion …and it is not only a southern “thing”.