French teams don’t like to travel.
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It’s a well-known fact: French teams don’t travel well. So far it seems like the only explanation we have for it is “eh, French rugby, right”. Before we can try to understand why let’s check the facts! I’ve put together the current standings of Home and Away games of the Top 14 and the Aviva Premiership to compare French and English rugby. Quickly looking at the tables, the rumours are true! Let’s see to what extent.
At the time of writing this article, the seasons are almost over with 23 games played in the Top 14 and 19 in the Aviva Premiership. This means 3 games remaining in both regular seasons. It’s actually a really exciting time as the playoff spots haven’t all been allocated.
Home and Away in the Top 14:
Here’s a big scary table, don’t worry it won’t bite. To make it easier, follow the numbers in green and red.
Home: Bayonne is the only team with a negative Points Difference.
Away: La Rochelle is the only team with a positive Points Difference.
Now let’s look at the best and worst performers Home and Away:
Let’s compare it to the Aviva Premiership:
Home: Two sides have negative Points difference away, note only four have a negative PD in the overall table.
Away: Three sides have a positive PD, as well as having won more games than lost. Uncoincidentally, they are the top 3 teams by a country mile.
Big scary table, for the self-hating:
Next step – average difference between sides:
Here are the two simplified tables. In the Aviva Prem, the first 4 are qualified for the playoffs; 5 and 6 directly qualify for the ERC; 7th place plays a two-legged tie breaker against the Top 14’s 7th and 12th is relegated to the Championship. In the Top 14, the first 2 qualify for the semi-finals; 3rd to 6th qualify for quarter-finals; 7th gets to play the Premiership’s 7th and 13 and 14 are relegated to Pro D2.
Aviva Premiership with 3 games to go:
The first 3 playoff spots are taken. Four teams have a realistic chance of taking the fourth. After those four, two teams (Gloucester and Newcastle) can still aim for the 7th place.
Comparing it to the Top 14:
There are 6 playoff spots, the first 3 teams are realistically already qualified, to which Toulon can be added. From 5th place (Pau) to 10th place (Stade Français) there are only 4 points. In the Premiership, Bath is 17 points ahead of Sale. Bear in mind that the two aren’t directly comparable because the total number of teams and the total number of games aren’t the same. Though the smaller number of games in the Premiership should mean a closer table and we observe the opposite!
To get a better grasp of how dense either tables are, we can look at the average difference between two sides:
Aviva Premiership: (74-19)/12=4.6
Top 14: (79-26)/14=3.7
This shows quite clearly that the Top 14 is a denser table. This observation actually didn’t need these calculations as the absolute difference in points between the 1st and last are almost the same but with more teams in Top 14. For what it’s worth, the differences between 1st and 12th are 74-19=55 in the Prem and 79-47=32 in the Top 14.
Now that’s a big difference!
We’ve seen that there is a noticeable difference in the Home and Away records between the top tier clubs of the two countries. In France, only the top and bottom teams break the pattern.
In England, three sides have won more away games than they have lost and one team has lost more games than won at home, Bristol. Sale are close with a 5-5 home record and a negative PD.
My explanation is that the Top 14 is a long and difficult season, especially combined with the ERC and that tired squads don’t put the biggest efforts and teams to win away from home when it is not needed to qualify for the playoffs. It’s not like the teams go out without any intention of playing but they do seem to lack an edge and will often be happy to come back from most clubs with a losing bonus, as long as they win at home and deny the others losing bonuses.
These away stats are directly responsible for how close the Top 14 is. By that, I mean how dense the table is, especially in the middle.
Many cultural changes need to be made at the top level and French rugby has far bigger worries. To put it in short:
The FFR and LNR are in a constant struggle to get their own interests forward.
The National team is suffering from the current state of the Top 14.
Young French players don’t get much game time at the top level.
The pathways for young players aren’t nearly good enough. The youth teams are regularly outplayed by both European and antipodean teams. To put it in short: if the young French players were good enough, they would play in the Top 14.
I don’t think it’s about to change anytime soon.