Biarritz fights headwind
In permanent conflict with the town hall of Biarritz and descended to ProD2 last season, the soundtrack did not really take advantage of its stay in the elite to build the future. player licenses, blocked by the FFR until last Tuesday, were finally made available to the association. Worried, the Basques of President Jean-Baptiste Aldigé will attack their first match – against Oyonnax – on a lawn abandoned all summer, for lack of municipal staff to maintain it: that is to say, through this only example, the deleterious climate which preludes what could very quickly turn out to be a way of the cross, following the departures of a few key players such as Peyresblanques, Hirigoyen, Erbani, Hart and Stark.
The president of the BO, Jean-Baptiste Aldigé, in Aguilera, a subject of contention between the town hall and the club. (M. Blondeau/The Team)
The ProD2 is much more than the antechamber of the Top 14: it constitutes a universe in its own right, with a habitus – a way of being – of its own. In the game, but also with regard to budgets. The ProD2 clubs have significantly increased their budgets to such an extent that four of them (Aix-en-Provence, Agen, Grenoble and Oyonnax) have exceeded the ten million mark. Does this mean that they are favorites to reach the Top 14? Not really. In any case not as far as Grenoble is concerned, sportingly a bit short. Considering that money does not bring happiness, Mont-de-Marsan, on the threshold of the elite last season, remains the number one contender, on equal terms with Oyonnax.
The Aixois go on the attack in the hope of grabbing one of the six qualifying places for the final phase. (F. Faugère/The Team)
Lots of suitors
The Montois had a painful experience in the play-off against Perpignan last season. They also lost their goalscorer and scrum half, Léo Coly. For his part and after two difficult editions, Agen seems to have finally found the right fuel under the rule of his coach, Bernard Goutta. Outsiders last season, Carcassonne, Colomiers and Aix-en-Provence remain in contention for the final phase. With targeted recruitment (Yameogo, Galala, Giorgadze, Abzhandadze, Guillemin and Rokoduguni have already distinguished themselves in the elite), Montauban could be the surprise of this season, evidenced by its success at Sapiac (33-14), Friday last, against Castres in a warm-up match.
The three-quarter center of Montauban, Maxime Mathy, whose contract has been extended this season. (N. Luttiau/The Team)
Maintenance is not acquired
While he was a serious contender for a return to the Top 14, Grenoble fell very low last season. Aurillac, he flirts dangerously with the bottom of the classification. As for Béziers, whose new sporting efficiency is not yet known, its main concern, for the moment, consists in securing the takeover of the club by a millionaire settled in Cathar country. These three clubs have as many questions that could be answered at the end of the first block of five days. But woe to anyone who loses his footing: he will then accompany Massy and Soyaux-Angoulême, promoted and therefore promised to fight not to return immediately to the National.
Recruited by Oyonnax, Steve Mafi (ball in hand, in the Castres jersey), will bring extra power to the pack. (F. Lancelot/The Team)
Stars from elsewhere
A few big names will intensify the competition. On the recruitment side, Oyonnax is counting on Steve Mafi (second row, London Irish) when Biarritz is betting on centers Joe Tomane (Tokyo) and Tyler Morgan (Scarlets). Montauban signed Nicolas Solveyra (prop, Houston) and Semesa Rokoduguni (center, Bath). For its part, Mont-de-Marsan has recruited Misaele Petero (centre, Tel Aviv). Joe Maksymiw (second line, Scarlets) and Richard Barrington (prop, Saracens) have joined Agen, while Andrew Ready (hooker, Western Force) and Marco Fepulea’i (prop, Los Angeles) are at Colomiers. Teimana Harrison (third row, Northampton), Sam Nixon (prop, Bristol), Juan-Bautista Pedemonte (third row, Jaguares) and Rob Harley (second row, Glasgow) boost Aix-en’s squad, respectively. -Provence, Grenoble, Vannes and Carcassonne.