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Top 14 2020/21 club-by-club season preview: Bayonne

By James Harrington
(Photo by Gaizka Iroz/AFP via Getty Images)

After a strong start, a first season back in the Top 14 for Bayonne was derailed by mumps before Covid-19 stopped everything. It will be just as tough in the top flight in their second season

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Key signing

Gaetan Germain: An injury-troubled couple of seasons have seen Germain’s legendarily unmissable howitzer boot track a little left in recent times. On his day, though, he can still ping them over from a long way out. A useful addition to Yannick Bru’s squad.

Key departure

Tongan lock/back row Edwin Maka should have a few years in him yet but after a season on the Basque coast, his future is currently uncertain. He was one of 19 departures from Bayonne this summer – and he wasn’t the only one with nowhere to go.

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

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

They say

“We would like to finish mid-table in the Top 14. We were a bit of a surprise last year. Now, we are a known quantity… we have to be ambitious but not pretentious.”

Club president Philippe Taybe – France Bleu

We say

It was an outbreak of a different sort that stalled Bayonne’s campaign last season after a strong start in which they beat Racing 92 at La Defense Arena on opening day and won five of their opening seven games.

Between mid-October and mid-January, however, they only won one game in all competitions as the squad was hit hard by mumps. Despite the ill-health strain on the squad, they did enough to finish ninth in their first season back in the Top 14 after two years in the Pro D2.

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How not to build a squad

What is even more remarkable is that Bayonne – Pro D2 champions in 2018/19 courtesy of a nerveless penalty from Martin Bustos Moyano with what turned out to be his last touch of a ball for the club – built a team for the Top 14 in about three weeks out of what was left in the transfer market.

It was no way to prepare for a return to the French top flight and it was to Bayonne and head coach Yannick Bru’s credit that they made such a pretty decent fist of it.

Calm recruitment

This time around, recruitment was done and dusted calmly and quietly before coronavirus cut short the 2019/20 season. Only Izaia Perese, who ended a two-year flirtation with rugby league in Australia to sign for the Basque side, was not formally announced before the end of May.

Rebuilding the scrum, following the retirements of Census Johnston and Aretz Iguiniz, has been the priority. Ulugia, Nixon, Huge Pyle, Alexandre Manukula and Asier Usarraga make up the bulk of the recruitment numbers.

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Expect to see Perese get plenty of action in midfield, and watch for excitement from the wing in the form of All Blacks sevens star Joe Ravouvou. Despite the promise, however, don’t be too surprised to see Bayonne – now very much of a known quantity in the Top 14 once again – battling for survival at season’s end.

Arrivals

Sam Nixon, John Ulugia, Hugh Pyle, Gaetan Germain, Joe Ravouvou, Alexandre Manukula (loan), Asier Usarraga, Izaia Perese

Departures

Census Johnston, Aretz Iguiniz, Pieter Jan van Lill, Adam Jaulhac, Edwin Maka, Antoine Battut, Benjamin Collet, Armandt Koster, Emmanuel Saubusse, Julien Tisseron, Setariki Tuicuvu

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finn 6 hours ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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