As the Top 14 reached its halfway point last weekend, the bottom two sides Grenoble and Bayonne suffered yet another defeat. Here, we look at their chances of avoiding relegation next year.
Currently 13th in the table, Bayonne have struggled to find consistency this season. After a promising start winning two of their first three games, they embarked on a losing streak which saw them go without a win for eleven consecutive matches.
The Basque side showed promise again recently when they beat Toulouse, having already defeated leading side Clermont away the previous week. But the side must have lost momentum during the week off that followed, as again at the weekend they showed their inability to sustain success with a heavy loss to Stade Français.
Bayonne’s match against the Parisians was one of their last opportunities to play away against a side in the bottom half of the table, and therefore a good chance to gain some ground on the teams above them.
Although, winning is not easy when nine of your players are out with injury. Bayonne’s coach Vincent Etcheto is currently without a fifth of his squad; not exactly ideal conditions for climbing the table.
One major problem is that Bayonne have not earned a single bonus point this season – in the Top 14, teams must lose by less than five for a bonus point. If Bayonne played with more consistency and at least lost by smaller margins, they would be in with a better chance of catching Lyon, who are currently eight points clear in 12th.
Grenoble have a different issue. In terms of attack, they are up there with some of the top teams, occasionally displaying moments of true talent. Against Montpellier an interception by Sisa Waqa led legendary referee Romain Poite to exclaim, “That’s incredible!”
In fact, the match against Montpellier was representative of Grenoble’s season as a whole. They scored many tries, but they conceded even more. Every time Montpellier came within five metres of the try-line, they seemed to find an extra man on the wing who easily broke through the Grenoble defence.
In terms of total tries scored Grenoble are sixth in the Top 14, with 28 tries so far this season. Obviously they have conceded the most tries though, 50 in total, hence their position at the bottom of the table.
On top of this, the side arguably have the best kickers in French rugby – Grenoble’s kicking average of 85 percentage being the best in the Top 14.
All which points a finger at the defence, which at times has lacked discipline. This season the side have been shown a total of 13 red and yellow cards, second only to Brive’s 20.
Bernard Jackman’s suspension for six weeks by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, French rugby’s governing body, only compounds that issue. Following Grenoble’s frustratingly close loss to Bordeaux-Bègles in November, Jackman insulted referee Salem Attalah saying: “Salem is retiring at the end of the season, we know why… the Top 14 is the best competition in the world, but the referees are bad.”
Jackman’s side are currently last in the table with 14 points and now they will have to contest their next three matches in the Top 14 with their coach relegated to the stands.
On statistics alone, Grenoble are a better side than Bayonne, but it feels like almost everything else is against them.
Bayonne number eight Johnnie Beattie said: “We’re still in the competition, it’s not over yet.” Given there are 13 more matches to play before demotion to the ProD2 is decided, gaining the points they need to escape relegation is certainly doable for both sides.
For Grenoble, this will mean tightening their defence so that the many tries they score can be rewarded with four-point wins.
For Bayonne, hope may lie in consistency and gaining as many losing bonus points as possible to claw their way into 12th place.
Both teams will return to the Top 14 just before Christmas with Bayonne playing La Rochelle and Grenoble taking on Stade Français. A victory in those matches could transform their campaign.