The ‘Stade Rochelais’ La Rochelle Rugby Club has a rich history spanning more than 100 years of wins, defeats, emotions and unifying moments.
1896 – 1914
The Stade Rochelais was founded on 8 April 1896, as an athletic sports club. Its first President was Louis Sagot. But it was not until 1898 that the Stade Rochelais became officially recognized, due to the efforts of its new President Charles Guarrigues.
In 1902, George Henry Jackson developed the rugby section of Stade Rochelais. He was a Consul for the United States, based in La Rochelle and was the club’s President from 1904 to 1911.
The first official match took place on 21 December 1902 on the ‘Champ de Mars’ field. It resulted in the Stade Rochelais rugby club’s first win (3-0) against the Cognac Sports Union.
The Stade Rochelais won its first title in 1906, becoming the Atlantic Champions, beating the University of Nantes Sports Club (8-6) in the final. In the French Championship quarterfinals, the yellow and black team were eliminated by the Stade Français Rugby Club.
On 15 August 1906, the La Rochelle players finally opened their own clubhouse on the Trianon sports field, between Carnot Avenue and the railway line.
Public support began to grow for the yellow and black team who, in 1907, once again became the Atlantic Champions, beating Nantes. However, for the second consecutive year, they once again lost the French Championship in the quarter-final, this time against Orléans.
Before the First World War broke out, the regional title slipped out of La Rochelle’s hands for several seasons. But the club won its third Atlantic Champions title in 1914. The yellow and black team lost the French Championship once again in the quarter-finals, against Bayonne.
1914 – 1948
The Trianon clubhouse reopened its doors in 1919, after closing for four years during the Great War. This next period was not Stade Rochelais’s best one, Presidents succeeded each other and the sporting performances did not reach any high peaks.
On 19 September 1926, the Port-Neuf Sports Park was inaugurated. It became the yellow and black team’s new home field.
The Stade Rochelais was not the only rugby club in difficulty in the late 1930s. The La Rochelle Sports Union, the city’s other rugby team, was struggling because its players were leaving to join the La Rochelle XIII Rugby League Club. Abandoned by their public, the two teams decided to join forces in order to save the sport. They amalgamated on 14 June 1935 to form the La Rochelle Rugby Union. The team began playing at the André Barbeau Stadium (in Alphonse de Saintonge Road).
On 23 June 1940, La Rochelle city was occupied by the German army. A reduction in the number of sports clubs pushed the La Rochelle-Students XIII to merge with the La Rochelle Rugby Union to put together a fifteen-member team, called Stade Rochelais! The club played on the Port-Neuf municipal field once again.
On 10 January 1941, Marcel Deflandre, Director of a company called La Raffinerie du Midi, became the Club President. He joined the "Honor and Homeland" group of the French Resistance in 1942 where he commanded the "Supply and Gasoline" section. He was arrested on 9 October 1943 in Niort and executed on 11 January 1944.
France was liberated from German occupation, and official sports competitions could resume. A La Rochelle Railway-Workers Sports Club was created and the La Rochelle rugby club decided to join them. The rugby section played at the Port-Neuf Staduim which, on 23 March 1947, was renamed the Marcel Deflandre Stadium.
In 1948, the rugby section of the railway-workers sports club became independent and became the ‘Stade Rochelais’ (the La Rochelle rugby club).
1948 – 1997
The Stade Rochelais became one of France’s top clubs definitively when it joined ‘the Federal’, the highest level of French rugby at the time. From 09 January 1949 to 24 October 1954, the club played 28 games without suffering a home defeat.
Laurent Bidart was the first La Rochelle player to be selected for the French national team in 1953 (1 selection against Wales).
The Stade Rochelais Rugby School was founded in 1952. In 1954, Arnaud Elissalde, then a player and coach at the club, trained a team of educators. The club and the rapidly-developing Rugby School gradually put some order into their administration structure. In order to give the club more dynamic impetus, Jacques Larrose and Arnaud Elissalde decided to publish a newspaper to promote the Stade Rochelais and rugby in general. In September 1958, the "Allez Stade" newsletter was first published.
As from 1961, Stade Rochelais reached the final rounds of the French championship almost systematically. They contested three quarter-finals losing against Dax in 1961, 1962 and 1969.
In 1970, La Rochelle teams contested all final competition rounds: First Division, Reserve, Junior A, Junior B and Cadet. During this decade, the young teams gained notoriety by regularly reaching the final rounds. The Stade Rochelais boosted its national reputation. In 1973, the French Championship was reorganised into two groups, each of 32 clubs. Stade Rochelais was put in Group A (first division). It remained there until 1985 before being relegated to Group B.
1997 - 2010
The club’s recent history begins in 1997, with the advent of professional rugby in France. Stade Rochelais also became a permanently professional team as from this year. The club spent five seasons in the first division (1997-2002).
At the same time as the club became professional, the "Atlantique Stade Rochelais" was created, of which the Stade Rochelais Association remained the majority shareholder with 98% of the shares.
‘Les Espoirs’ (the up-and-coming team) became French champions in their category in 2002. The First Division team was a semi-finalist in the 2000 French Cup and twice won the ‘Coupe de la Ligue’ in 2002 and 2003. The club was in the Top 16 for the 2001-2002 season, before being demoted at the end of the season.
Since the 2006-2007 season, La Rochelle has systematically contested the final phase of the D2 Professional Championship. It was a finalist in 2007, and a semi-finalist in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 La Rochelle succeeded in its ambition. By beating Lyon in the final (32-26), the club reached the Top 14.
2010 – 2016
The Atlantic Stade Rochelais played its first ever season in the Top 14. Despite a remarkable season, that was praised by all of the Top 14 teams, La Rochelle was finally relegated to the D2 Professional Championship, but with the firm intention to not remain there.
The Club launched a major five-year project called "Growing Together 2015", which aimed to enable the Atlantic Stade Rochelais to compete with the best. This included:
- A stadium with over 15,000 seats
- A budget of € 15 million
- More capital
- A professional team with 30% club-trained players
At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Club made its big comeback to the Top 14 after beating Agen in the final.
Having reached all the 2015-project objectives, the club managed to remain in the Top 14 and to launch its 2020 project "Writing our History". The word "Atlantic" disappeared from the club’s name and a new logo was created. Stade Rochelais was now ready to assume its role as a leading French rugby club.