Show Notes for Episode 433: Get Ready for the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France!

Category: French Customs & Lifestyle


Rugby is a favorite sport in France, second only to soccer. But rugby fans are passionate about their favorite sport and particularly in the southwest of the country, there are many clubs of a high equality.

Rugby is a game that has a lot of similarities to American football – it uses an oval ball, there are passes and runs with the ball, and there are extra points for a penalty kick between the goal posts. But in many ways it is different. The players have no protective equipment (except sometimes a hat to protect their ears) and there are huge huddles called melees where the two teams push with all their collective force to advance and also to pass the ball underhand. And points are scored as soon as the player gets his hands with the ball across the final line, often on the ground. It is an enormously popular sport, especially in the southern half of France where every city has a team. There are ‘little leagues” and then two leagues: the most important league, league one is for thee  best teams who play for the championship.

Many people in France will tell you that rugby is the “gentleman’s game” as opposed to soccer which is considered to be an ‘every maatn sport”, but this difference and the behavior of the players or the fans, has not always been like that.

This year, 2023, France will host the World Rugby Cup which it first hosted in 1987. There are 9 cities that will host games, with, of course, the final being played in the stadium of Paris/St Denis.

The games will begin with what are called the “pool” games, and there are four pools or groups that were picked by random. Those games, like in soccer, are for eliminating teams. The games will stretch out in time from the beginning of September, to the end of October.

But before giving a schedule of the games and the cities where they will be played, let’s take a look at the history of rugby in France

The History of Rugby and France

By most records and for most historians, rugby is a game that was invented in England in the 1820’s. It was originally a game that combined elements of what we call soccer, and what we now call rugby with an oval ball. There are two kinds of rugby, Rugby XV (15 players) and Rugby XIII (13 players) : for this podcast we will talk about rugby at 15 which is the world federation rugby.

It started as a workers’ game in some industrial cities in England and by the 1860’s was recognized as a game unto itself. It then became very popular with the whole population. Because by the end of the 19th century there were many English workers in the factories and at the ports in northern France, particularly in the Havre region, that is where the first French club was created by two young British men who decided to have a team in the Havre.

The second club was created in Paris in 1877 and was called the English Taylors RFC. Several other Parisian clubs were created and in 1892 there was the first French Championnat of Rugby XV – played out by two Parisian clubs.e

The second area to create rugby clubs and teams was Bordeaux, again because of the influence of the large British population there. Little by little most of the cities in the south, particularly the southwest of France, created their own rugby clubs due to the presence and heavy influence of the English.

In 1900, the French rugby team beat the English to win the gold medal – it was the first time in the Olympics.

In 1910 at the push of the French, the Tournement of the Five Nations was created. The five nations are France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England.
And the French Federation of Rugby was created in 1919

Amazingly, in 1920 and then again in 1924, the French team lost the gold medal in the Olympics not to the British but to the Americans, who won the gold each of those years!


In the 1930’s all the French clubs were excluded from competitions. Firstly, they were accused of ‘professionalism’: that is, paying the players and subsidizing the clubs to make sure they had the best players. No other country had ‘professional” players. The other reason was that there  were a couple of teams that were accused of being too violent both on field and off. There were a lot of fights and some players were  fired for taking money. The number of rugby clubs went from 784 in 1930 to 558 in 1939. Most of the teams in the other countries wanted to keep it an amateur sport.

During WWII, unfortunately, France was let back into the tournements, but they officially associated themselves with the Vichy government and its neo nazi politics.  And at this time, the rugby 13, which was decidedly amateur and more working class, was forbidden by the Vichy government.

After WWII the French rugby clubs flourished, but in 1952 they were again accused of “professionalism and corruption” and were menaced with expulsion from international competitions.

That seems to have been “arranged” because in 1954 the French team played and beat the New Zealand All Blacks for the very first time! In 1958 the French team beat the South African Springboks. In 1959 the French team won the Five Nations Tournement again, but the biggest consecration came in 1968 when the French team won the Grand Chelem: that means they did not lose any games at all!

Since then, the French rugby team has won the Grand Chelem in 1977, 1981, 1987, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2004

France won the World Cup in 1987, and in 2007 against South Africa.

Rugby Becomes Professional!

It was in 1995, that rugby finally became a professional game with recruitment of players from all over the world, like for soccer. For the French Championships, the team  that wins gets the BOUCLIER DE BRENNUS. The French championship final is played in June of each year.

There are several leagues for rugby, the top league is called, the Top 14, or the First League. There are 14 clubs, which represent 14 different cities: all but two are in the south of France: and although some teams wind up going into the second division, most of the time the top 14 are:

Stade de France-Paris, Bordeaux-Bègles, Montpellier, Brive, Toulon, Perpignan, La Rochelle, Lyon, Clermont, Castres, Toulouse, Bayonne, Racing 92.


This year the World Cup is being held in France. There will be 9 host cities: Stade de France/ St Denis, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes, Nice, and St Etienne

The games will  begin on September 8 and the final will be on October 28, so almost two months of games. Each city except for Marseille and Paris will host eliminatory games, some like Toulouse will host five games, others like Nice, will host four games. Marseille and then of course Paris will host the quarter finals and then semi-finals and the final game will be in Paris.

We will send out a schedule of the dates for the games in each city: if you are interested in going to a game you should be buying your tickets already. And if you are planning on visiting one or some of the host cities book your rooms now for the dates that there will be games: many hotels are filling up as this is a big event.

And if France wins the World Cup it will be a BIG CELEBRATION everywhere!!! If you do not know rugby this is your chance to see a game!!!

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Category: French Customs & Lifestyle