The controversial proposal to create a Basque Super Club by merging Biarritz and Bayonne is now off the table
In the end pride triumphed over pragmatism and the Basque Super Club was binned. Thrown out with the concept were Serge Blanco and Manu Mérin, presidents respectively of Biarritz and Bayonne, the two clubs that for the past few weeks have been wrestling with the idea of a merger.
Blanco resigned at the start of last week when he failed to win a two-thirds majority of supporters in favour of a Super Club at a Biarritz’ general meeting. But in an indication of just how shambolic this whole episode has been, it emerged that there had been what the local paper Sud Ouest described as “irregularities” in the voting procedure. So on 30 June, one week after the initial vote, there was a re-run and this time of the 382 ballot papers, a remarkable 309 (81%) voted for a fusion.
But it counted for nothing because in Bayonne 78% of the amateur section voted against the idea – and there were no irregularities in their ballot. Aware that there were ‘manoeuvrings’ against him, Mérin resigned after just 18 months in the job and he was replaced by Francis Salagoïty, who had filled the same post from 1999 to 2001.
Salagoïty had little time in which to reacquaint himself with the job. On Tuesday he had an audience with the DNACG, the financial gendarme of professional rugby, to explain how he intends to finance the club bearing in mind that Bayonne’s losses are €700,000 and their envisaged budget deficit is €1.9m. He passed that test and so now Salagoïty must turn his attention to on-field matters ahead of the new season that starts on 22 August.
Bayonne were relegated on the last day of the Top 14’s regular season and they’ve been shipping players ever since. Ten of the squad who played in the final match of the season have moved on, including France full-back Scott Spedding (Clermont), promising No 8 Charles Ollivon (Toulon) and wing Marvin O’Connor (Montpellier).
Bayonne’s supporters have been bullish in declaring that their boys will bounce back up to the Top 14 in 12 months’ time but their optimism may be misplaced. Despite the departures (16 in total) only one player of note has so far arrived – Julien Jané, a France Sevens winger – and they’re now in a league that grows ever more competitive.
Lyon, also relegated last season, have recruited heavily in recent weeks, counting among the new faces the vastly experienced French internationals Julien Bonnaire and David Attoub, as well as former Bath flanker Carl Fearns and ex-Clermont winger Napolioni Nalaga. With Pierre Mignoni brought in from Toulon to replace Olivier Azam as coach, Lyon will start the season as league favourites.
Then there’s Mont-de-Marsan, beaten by Agen in the thrilling ProD2 play-off, and also Perpignan, who are regaining their confidence after a harrowing few seasons. Among their new recruits are prop Kisi Pulu from Toulouse and ex-Montpellier backs Enzo Selponi and Yohann Artru.
And let’s not forget Biarritz. Unlike their Basque neighbours, Biarritz have kept the bulk of their squad, and made a couple of useful signings in Bertrand Guiry, the former Bordeaux flanker, and Laurent Magnaval, the young scrum-half who arrives from Racing 92.
One of Blanco’s last acts before resigning from the club he’d presided over since 2008 was to assure players and staff that Biarritz were financially secure for the upcoming season. The players certainly seemed satisfied when they reported for the start of pre-season training on Monday, even being able to boast of a new jersey to mark what they hope is a new and more prosperous era.