Relegated to the ProD2 in May 2015, the Basque club have bounced straight back up after beating Aurillac in the play-off to clinch the second spot behind Lyon. Notable among their 23 new recruits are Scotland No 8 Johnnie Beattie, who arrives from Castres, and former All Black lock Tom Donnelly, who spent last season at Montpellier.
Experience: Lorenzo Cittadini has 50 caps for Italy
Veteran Welsh prop Ben Broster makes the short journey to Bayonne from Biarritz and he’ll be joined the front-row by Italian and former Wasps prop Lorenzo Cittadini. Sixteen of last season’s squad depart including Blair Stewart, the Kiwi fly-half who has retired after eight years playing in France.
In finishing seventh in the Top 14 – the same position as 2014-15 – Bordeaux have qualified for the Champions Cup again but without playing in the same expansive style as the previous season. Manager Raphael Ibanez
came in for criticism in some sections of the French press after Bordeaux suffered a slump in form in the spring. At his end of season press conference, Ibanez dismissed talk that the club was “in crisis”, saying: “Yes, our style was less flamboyant [than last season] but the Top 14 is a championship of rucks, not passes.”
Star turn: Ireland’s Ian Madigan is one of the big names to go to Bordeaux
Among the prominent arrivals for next season are Aussie lock Luke Jones and Ireland fly-half Ian Madigan, while several stalwarts have hung up their boots, including former Springbok scrum-half Heini Adams and Kiwi Matt Clarkin. The loss of fly-half Pierre Barnard to Toulon, wing Sofiane Guitoune to Toulouse and Julien Ledevedec to Brive will also leave sizeable gaps in the squad.
A solid season for Brive, who narrowly missed out on qualification for the Champions Cup but who nonetheless can take satisfaction in finishing eighth with just one defeat at home (to Clermont). Compared to some of their rivals Brive have resisted the urge to shake up their squad with just a handful of players released and only six new arrivals.
Late bloomer: Julien Ledevedec made his France debut last month and impressed
The most notable addition is Julien Ledevedec, the 30-year-old second row who impressed on his Test debut for France last month in Argentina. Joining him from Bordeaux is Patrick Toetu, the veteran Samoan-Kiwi prop, while another man bringing plenty of experience to Brive will be full-back Benjamin Lapeyre, of Toulon, Racing and, most recently, La Rochelle.
The 2013 champions exceeded expectations this year by finishing sixth, putting behind them memories of the previous season when they avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth. Nonetheless the 2016-17 will be a challenge for Castres following a raft of departures. Scotland lock Richie Gray
and Samoan flanker Piula Faʻasalele
have joined Toulouse, France centre Remi Lamerat
is now with Clermont, Johnnie Beattie is at Bayonne, Rudi Wulf
at Lyon, as is prop Karena Wihongi
Widely travelled: 63-cap Puma wing Horacio Agulla arrived from Bath
On the other hand, Castres have welcomed a couple of experienced South-Africans in prop Daniel Kotze (Clermont) and hooker Jody Jenneker (Oyonnax), along with French locks Thibault Lassalle and Loic Jacquet, Steve Mafi from Western Force and arriving from Bath is Argentine threequarter Horacio Agulla.
Dumped out of the Champions Cup at the pool stage, and beaten by Racing 92 in the semi-final of the Top 14, Clermont endured by their standards a disappointing season. With rumours of squad unrest midway through the campaign, coach Franck Azema knows he need silverware this season to keep his critics at bay.
Midfield maestro: Remi Lamerat is part of the French squad and highly-rated
A couple of faithful servants have left Clermont after a decade of service with lock Jamie Cudmore
relocating to Oyonnax and Aussie fly-half Brock James
signing for La Rochelle. Jonathan Davies
has returned to Wales and Daniel Kotze is now with Castres. Azema has largely kept faith with last season’s squad with Osprey prop Aaron Jarvis
and Castres centre Remi Lamerat
the most eye-catching of the six signings.
An impressive European Challenge Cup campaign saw Grenoble beat Connacht in the quarters to set up a semi-final clash against Harlequins. Though unsuccessful the cup run proved the quality in the Grenoble squad and what they need to add this season in the Top 14 is consistency if they’re to improve on 11th position.
Irish connection: Bernard Jackman has persuaded Aly Muldowney to join him in Grenoble
Former Ireland and Leinster Bernard Jackman has been promoted to Director of Rugby and among the new arrivals this season are scrum-half David Mélé, Canberra Raiders wing Sisa Waqa and second row Aly Muldowney, who makes the move from Connacht. There are only a handful of departures with Irish scrum-half James Hart joining Racing 92 and centre Jackson Willison signing for Worcester.
A season that began ominously with a 44-6 thrashing at home to Clermont improved and La Rochelle finished ninth, although they failed to win once on the road. The arrival of All Black flanker Victor Vito and fly-half Brock James will strengthen the squad for the new campaign, with the latter’s vast experience gained during a decade at Clermont sure to prove invaluable.
World Cup winner: Victor Vito brings with him 33-caps of All Blacks experience
Another new signing is 24-year-old South African centre Paul Jordaan, who joins from the Sharks, while among those departing are scrum-half Julien Audy (Bordeaux) and Jean-Pascal Barraque (France Sevens).