The Magic of a Basque derby

Thu, 28 Feb 2013 10:54
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Biarritz and Bayonne lie at the heart of the French Basque heartland, rich in rugby history and pomp but both currently struggling to make their mark in the no-holds barred Top 14.

Biarritz and Bayonne lie at the heart of the French Basque heartland, rich in rugby history and pomp but both currently struggling to make their mark in the no-holds barred Top 14.

The two picturesque towns lie just eight kilometres apart, Biarritz fronting the wild waters of the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast while Bayonne straddles the nearby inland Nive and Adour rivers.

The derby clash between the two rival rugby clubs offers residents boasting rights for the season, even if that season is not going as well as expected for either side.

Biarritz, champions of France in 2002, 2005 and 2006, and losing European Cup finalists in 2006 and 2010, have an ageing squad and tellingly for the first time since 2003, not one squad member was selected for this season's Six Nations.

They currently lie in 10th place in the Top 14, 26 points off leaders Toulon and nine adrift of sixth place, with the top six advancing to the end-of-season play-offs.

The side started the season with a bang on the back of four impressive wins, including one over Toulouse. But the rot soon set in, the team suffering six successive losses, rebounding to now stand at nine wins and 10 defeats in 19 games played.

Equally disappointing are Bayonne, who have racked up just seven wins in their 19 outings, and have suffered humiliating defeats by perennial league heavyweights Toulon, Clermont and Toulouse. They stand 11th, six points off Biarritz.

Bayonne, which enjoy the sixth biggest budget in the Top 14, are bankrolled by optician Alain Afflelou and have signed the likes of Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips in recent seasons.

Since their promotion back into the Top 14 in 2004, however, they've never experienced European Cup rugby.

"We now no longer recruit on the strength of a CV," said Afflelou, who's operating on a three-year window to get in amongst Europe's elite.

But any disappointments are shelved for Friday's intra-Basque, floodlit fixture.

"I feel that it's a special match for everybody," said Bayonne's South African full-back Scott Spedding.

"You can feel more application and concentration. We don't even know the team line-up yet but everyone wants to play this match.

"I didn't know that the fans of the two teams gave so much importance to this match. There's something irrational about it, there are only two matches like it in one season."

Spedding said such derbies were rare in his native South Africa.

"When you do find them, they're largely at amateur level," he said. "Several feelings come to the surface with this match: pride, honour, and also a certain notion of the challenge.

"Biarritz are above Bayonne, David wants to slay Goliath."

Biarritz's France international No 8 Raphael Lakafia said the fact the two teams were so close in the league added extra spice to the encounter.

"Matches against Bayonne are always special," he said. "But this one will be even more so because the two teams are so close in the standings.

"Bayonne are a team that are progressing, they've had some good recent results and increasingly manage to impose themselves at home. So the match will be all that more complicated because it's us who travel to their Jean-Dauger Stadium to play."

Fixtures:
(All times GMT)

Friday, March 1:
Bayonne v Biarritz (19.50)

Saturday, March 2:
Stade Francais v Clermont (14.00)
Bordeaux-Begles v Agen (17.00)
Castres v Montpellier (17.00)
Mont-de-Marsan v Perpignan (17.00)
Racing-Metro v Grenoble (17.00)
Toulon v Toulouse (19.45)

AFP

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