Double delight for RC Toulon as they rule in France
Toulon's players lift the Top 14 championship 'Bouclier de Brennus' (Brennus shield) trophy after winning their French Top 14 rugby union final against Castres Olympique, at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on May 31, 2014 - by Boris Horvat
In a season when the fight for top spot in the Top 14 regularly changed hands, Bernard Laporte's side found form when it mattered, finishing as leaders before securing both the Top 14 and European Cup titles.
Having avenged last season's defeat to Castres in France's showpiece final, Toulon may have satisfied the demands of their owner Mourad Boudjellal by winning the double, but for sides like Montpellier, a season of promise ended up asking more questions than it answered.
Indeed, although the same two teams contested Saturday's final, the Top 14 landscape changed significantly in the intervening 12 months and promises to continue doing so until the start of the new season.
For Toulon, their victory will not leave them short of motivation to "continue winning games and trophies" according to scrum half Sebastien Tillous-Borde, but the retirements of captain Jonny Wilkinson, Joe van Niekerk and Danie Rossouw, will give Laporte and his team new questions to ponder.
Before Saturday's final, Carl Hayman paid tribute to Wilkinson, someone who "pulls no punches on the pitch but is a very nice man off it," and who, alongside van Niekerk, had "brough a lot to the Toulon jersey."
New signing Leigh Halfpenny of Wales will compensate for the absence of Wilkinson's kicking, but adjusting to life without the 35-year-old's playing services is sure to keep the club's hierachy busy this summer.
It will be an equally interesting off-season for Castres, who ended a season of transition as beaten finalists and feeling a mix of disappointment and satisfaction.
New coach David Darricarrere led his team into the playoffs where they secured victories over Clermont and Montpellier, but 12 months on from losing Marc Andreu and Joe Tekori, Castres face the challenge of replacing key players, with Brice Dulin and Antonie Claassen set to head elsewhere.
The two other semi-finalists, Montpellier and Racing Metro had set themselves up for a title challenge with strong finishes to their league campaigns, but they were ultimately undone by the cash-rich might of Toulon.
Meanwhile, Clermont were hampered by an inability to win away during the season, before losing their remarkable unbeaten home record in their quarter-final against Castres, the same stage at which Toulouse were beaten by Racing Metro.
In a game which became infamous for Florian Fritz returning to the field when clearly unfit to play, Guy Noves' side failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time in 20 years.
Stade Francais will look to continue their upward trajectory next year after improving on last year's 10th-placed finish. They held off Bordeaux-Begles to secure a European cup playoff, but were beaten over two legs by London Wasps.
In a congested top half, 8th-placed Bordeaux-Begles finished just 13 points behind leaders Toulon, with the fight for European places next season shaping up to be equally tight.
Newly promoted Lyon and La Rochelle will be hoping to emulate Brive and Oyonnax who both avoided an immediate return to the second division, despite the latter being involved in a four way battle to avoid relegation which lasted until the final day.
Grenoble and Bayonne also survived despite enjoying contrasting ends to the season, with both lamenting their inability to win on a more consistent basis.
Ultimately, it was Perpignan who joined the hapless Biarritz in the second division, their first time outside of France's top league in over a century.