There’s something about Agen. They have recruited and – on the whole – retained well. On paper, their squad looks better than it did last season. And that must mean they will do better than 13th, doesn’t it?

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Key signing

Gabriel Ibitoye: Agen’s recruitment has been strong, but their last signing was arguably the most intriguing. It took some time for the transfer of the former Quins winger to be sorted but now the two-season deal is done, Agen will expect great things from the speedster who is very much en route to becoming a future superstar.

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England forward Courtney Lawes guests on All Access, the RugbyPass interview series hosted by Jim Hamilton

Key departure

Fiji international winger Benito Masilevu heads from one mountain range to another, as he leaves Pau to join ambitious Pro D2 side Grenoble for 2020/21. A mention, too, for Tom Murday, who heads to Japan – as soon as the country opens its borders – after five years in the shadows of the Pyrenees.

They say

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“This latest high-quality recruit [Gabriel Ibitoye] completes our ambitious and promising recruitment of this off-season.”

– President Jean-Francois Fonteneau, Twitter

We say

Thirteenth – and in the survival play-off place – when coronavirus cut short the season, Agen have spent their pandemic-extended break wisely. Hence the optimism of club president Fonteneau when he announced the final arrival.

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They had already signed smartly, bringing in plenty of experience in Tapu Falatea, Camille Gerondeau and Victor Moreaux from Castres, as well as Jean-Marcellin Buttin from Lyon and a smattering of youthful potential in Kevin Yameogo, Corentin Vernet and Yoan Cottin when the Ibitoye whispers started.

Agen links

Some names were heading to south-west France, they hinted. They were reportedly fairly close to bringing in Elton Jantjies. They nearly signed Brett Herron from Quins. They did sign Noel Reid from Leicester. And then they bagged Ibitoye as an additional player – bringing the number of arrivals to twelve, the same as the number of departures… quantitatively, at least. Importantly, they also managed to retain key players in captain Romain Briatte, centre Nathan Decron, hooker Paula N’gauamo, lock Andres Zafra and back row Jessy Jegerlehner.

Stronger, younger, more balanced

Qualitatively, on paper, the squad for 2020/21 looks stronger, more balanced and, crucially, younger. It’s not a top-six side yet – that is a stretch too far after another flirtation with relegation. But coach Christophe Laussucq has a stable squad that is better than 13th and has the potential to build into a top-six challenger over time.

Agen need their new players to integrate quickly and shore up the fortress walls at Stade Armandie which were broached too many times for comfort last season. A dismal run between November and January saw them lose eleven domestic and European games. A repeat would be unsustainable. It’s surely – with the potential in Agen’s ranks – unthinkable.

Arrivals

Tapu Falatea, Kevin Yameogo (loan), Victor Moreaux, Corentin Vernet, Camille Gerondeau, Yoan Cottin (loan), Noel Reid, Gabriel Ibitoye, Jean-Marcellin Buttin

Departures

Jeronimo Negrotto, Kamaliele Tufele, Mickael de Marco, Tom Murday, Adrian Motoc, Xavier Chauveau, Alban Conduche, Benito Masilevu

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