Top 14: The soap opera that is Bayonne

Martin Gillingham
Didier Faugeron 300x269 Top 14: The soap opera that is Bayonne

Didier Faugeron (centre) is currently in charge at Bayonne

And you think the storylines on an Eastenders’ Christmas special are a bit too removed from reality? Well, you should try Bayonne. Only the goings-on there are for real, even if the script does read a bit like a soap opera’s.

Click on to the official Aviron Bayonnais website and you’ll get a graphic illustration of just how fluid things are in the Basque country. My presumption is that the club’s webmaster must have gone down with either a bout of mumps or perhaps himself been told he is surplus to requirement because, according to the Equipe Pro’s section of official biographies, Bayonne’s head coach is Christian Gajan. Alas, such has been the speed of events and turnover in personnel in recent times that three separate announcements involving the arrival of three new coaching teams have been made since Gajan was dismissed on December 5.

Since then, former coach Jean-Pierre Elissalde (father of Toulouse’s former half-back turned coach Jean-Baptiste); former Stade Francais assistant Didier Faugeron, and then, on Monday, the Agen duo of Christian Lanta and Christophe Deylaud, have all been “unveiled”.

Faugeron is currently in situ with the Lanta / Deylaud combo signed up to take over in the summer. The most recent to have been ushered in the direction of the Job Centre was Elissalde.

Elissalde lasted just 40 days. That’s four days shorter than Brian Clough’s tenure at Leeds. And if Clough told the likes of Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles to “chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest ******* dustbin you can find, because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by bloody cheating” I hate to think how charmless Jean-Pierre must have been when he introduced himself to a gathering that included Cedric Heymans, Mike Phillips and Joe Rokocoko

Parroting the late Leeds manager, Elissalde admits he spoke frankly to the players during his time in charge. “I was sincere,” he said. “I had some very harsh words. It’s my nature”

Afflelou, in the role of latter day Manny Cousins, said: “Elissalde was a mistake, He had a negative attitude towards the players.”

The man with the golden gun – or rather the silver bullet – is Alain Afflelou who took full control of the club on the day it was announced Gajan and his back-up team had been sacked. In truth, Afflelou has been the power behind the throne for some time. The son of an Algerian baker, who earned his fortune by launching a national chain of opticians, Afflelou has had his name plastered around the club’s home Stade Jean Dauger and across the front of the players’ shirts for several years. His grip on power tightened towards the end of last season when he successfully deposed the club’s long-standing president Francis Salagoity by threatening to withdraw his financial backing and forming a strategic alliance with the Bayonne mayor Jean Grenet and club vice-president Michel Cacouault.

Afflelou’s eventual succession to a position of absolute power in the club’s boardroom was expected to bring an end to the chaos. Yet the would-be benign dictator has proved to be anything but; wielding the axe and sparking off another winter of discontent.

Bayonne operate on a 17.2 million euros budget and last summer welcomed to their bosom an array of internationals that would make Richard Cockerill weep and perhaps even have another moan about the Premiership salary cap. Yet 15 rounds into a 26-match league season, Les Ciel et Blanc are staring into the abyss. Relegation is a real possibility, perhaps even a likelihood.

They are currently 13th out of the 14 clubs – two will be relegated – and it’s difficult to see where the points needed to save them will come from – at least until the end of March and the final run of six matches. Before then they play five times (three of them away from home) and all against play-off contenders. They start at Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon on Saturday. In fact, the only one of the next five games in which you would give them a favourite’s chance is on February 11 when Stade Francais are the visitors. By then, though, I expect Lyon to have beaten Agen at home this Saturday and perhaps even to have picked up a losing bonus point six days later in their previously postponed trip to Bordeaux-Begles.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Faugeron and his able deputy (the recently retired prop Denis Avril) because, as we had confirmed with the Lanta / Deylaud announcement this week, they too are a temporary measure. Meanwhile, marquee names in the dressing-room must be growing disillusioned and wondering what their futures hold.

Bayonne’s Pena Baiona supporters club is one of the biggest in Europe. I wonder how many of its members truly believe they will be following Top 14 rugby next season?

ESPN rugby expert Martin Gillingham is the lead commentator for the broadcaster’s live coverage of the French rugby union championship, the Top 14. Visit for more information

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    The structure of French rugby is an absolute mess. Despite this, they generate massive TV revenues, and attract billionaire owners by the dozen!

    In spite their desire to shoot themselves in the head at every turn, Les Bleus are consistently one of the world’s best international sides, and Toulouse and Clermont are two of the world’s strongest club sides.
    If France ever grows up emotionally, they will be the strongest and wealthiest nation on earth!

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