Biarritz’s season is going from bad to worse.
The former European giants are bottom of the Top 14, a total of 13 points behind fellow Basque side Bayonne in 13th, and have been eliminated from the Amlin Challenge Cup at the pool stages.
Matters took another turn for the worse on the training ground last Thursday as a brawl broke out between several of the club’s players. As a result, back row and France international Raphaël Lakafia fractured his hand and team doctors now say he will be sidelined for between four and six weeks.
As reported by French daily newspaper Sud-Ouest, the Biarritz training ground altercation began when Lakafia was tackled strongly by Imanol Harinordoquy and hooker Fabien Barcella. When the 25-year-old took exception, Harinordoquy is alleged to have swung the first punch, to which Lakafia responded.
A number of other players became involved, and the scene resembled something of “young against old” as the more youthful squad members protected Lakafia and the experienced heads stepped in for Harinordoquy. While training ground brawls are nothing new in professional [or amateur] rugby, this incident comes at a bad time for Biarritz.
Leinster beat Biarritz in last season’s Amlin Challenge Cup. ©INPHO/Colm O’Neill.
Serge Blanco’s club has been struggling for wins in the French top division, with just three victories in their campaign so far. Les Biarrots have 10 games in which to turn their season around, but relegation continues to look likely at present. That would cap a remarkable fall from grace for a club who won the Heineken Cup as recently as 2010.
Biarritz have struggled to cope with the influx of money and ideas into French rugby, with Serge Kampf’s previously unique investment now being eclipsed. The personal fortunes of figures like Jacky Lorenzetti at Racing Métro have been game-changers in France, while the fact that Biarritz is a small town of less than 30,000 people does not help in terms of gathering sponsorship.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal has been vocal in his belief that the Top 14 is moving away from being a league dominated by historic, small-town clubs such as Biarritz and Castres, and moving towards being led by the city-based outfits like his own, Montpellier and Racing.
Biarritz’s struggles would appear to back up the controversial RCT chief’s words. The Basques meet Oyonnax at home on Saturday, and will hope that a win in that fixture can turn their fortunes around. The loss of Lakafia to a fractured hand will not have been helpful.