Pro D2: French 2nd Division Rugby Championship
The French 2nd Division Rugby League, also known as Pro D2 since 2001, is the second tier of national rugby league competitions in France. It is a competition that constitutes the access league to the elite, the Top 14. Initially played between amateur clubs, the Pro D2 became professional in 2000, undergoing several successive restructurings to arrive at a tightened format with sixteen clubs.
Pro D2: History and Genesis
With the advent of professional rugby in 1995, the French first division championship was restructured and gave way for the 1997-1998 season to two distinct competitions of 20 clubs called group A1 and A2. In 1998-1999, the A2 group became the Elite 22.
On November 11, 1999, the second professional division is created under the aegis of the National Rugby League: it is simply called second division and will be composed of 12 clubs in the first edition, in 2000-2001. From its second edition, in 2001-2002, it is called Pro D2.
The Pro D2 Evolution
Since 2001, the professionalism and the tightening of the first division (21 clubs in 2001, 16 in 2002 and 14 since 2005) have contributed to the rise of the level of the Pro D2 championship.
French first division champions such as AS Béziers, SU Agen, USA Perpignan, Racing Metro 92, Biarritz Olympique, RC Toulon, Aviron Bayonnais, Section Paloise, Tarbes Pyrénées, RC Narbonne, Lyon OU, Stade Montois, FC Grenoble and US Montauban have already played in at this level.
French international player, Vincent Clerc, made his first professional steps in Pro D2, with FC Grenoble. Vincent Clerc, the record holder for most tries in the Top 14, started his professional career with FC Grenoble in the Pro D2. The All Black Tana Umaga participated in the Pro D2 during the 2006-2007 season, with RC Toulon. The resources invested are more and more important over the years, and many teams had in their ranks former French internationals and prestigious recruits. Thus, the arrival of Tana Umaga, ex-captain of the All Blacks, for an eight-game trial during the 2006-2007 season, represents the most spectacular transfer made in France at the Pro D2 level.
The following season, several teams fielded prestigious squads: Agen and its team ranked 5th in the Top 14 in 2006 (with François Gelez, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Pépito Elhorga), Toulon managed by Tana Umaga and with stars of the Tri-nations (George Gregan, Andrew Mehrtens, Victor Matfield, Anton Oliver, Lawrence Sephaka) or the Racing Metro 92 with an international recruitment (David Auradou, Carlo Festuccia, Andrea Lo Cicero, Thomas Lombard, Simon Raiwalui, Franck Tournaire).
The beginning seasons proved the enthusiasm of the public for the new league format since the attendance at the stadium is 30% higher than in previous years. As a sign of this rise in the level of play, in May 2009, five Pro D2 players were selected for the French A team, the antechamber to the national team (the Lyonnais players Aliki Fakate and Rémy Grosso, the Agenais players Yoann Huget and Romain Sola and the Narbonne player Romain Martial).
The 2010s saw the arrival of new clubs in French professional rugby, from regions where rugby was less popular, such as Provence Rugby, USON Nevers, Rouen NR or RC Vannes. Karl Tuʻinukuafe played the 2015-2016 Pro D2 season with RC Narbonne before being selected for the New Zealand squad by Steve Hansen two years later. Piri Weepu winner of the 2011 World Cup also played with RC Narbonne in Pro D2 during the 2016-2017 season.
In 2021, Melvyn Jaminet and Quentin Walcker played their first minutes of their career with the French national team for the 2021 summer tour in Australia while playing for USA Perpignan, in the Pro D2. In 2022, Ange Capuozzo earned his first caps in the Six Nations Tournament with Italy while playing for FC Grenoble in Pro D2.
Pro D2 Current Format
The Pro D2 championship is composed of two phases:
- a pool phase of 16 teams played in round-robin matches.
- a knockout phase played with 6 teams.
- At the end of the pool phase, the teams ranked 1st and 2nd qualify for the semi-finals at home.
Teams ranked 3rd to 6th play off against each other in order to reach the semi-finals. The winner of the final is declared national champion and is promoted to the Top 14. The runner-up plays a final play-off against the 13th-placed team in the Top 14, the winner of which is also promoted (or retained).
Finally, the last two teams of the group phase are relegated to the National 1 division.
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