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News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final

May 17 2009

In the first of a series of articles to be published this week in the build-up to the European Challenge Cup final on Friday, OSB takes a look at Bourgoin's journey to the Stoop...

Isère to Middlesex

"A Journey with Many Ups and Downs"


Bourgoin Logo


Here is a trick question for you – which team in the Top Quattorze had a longer journey on its first away trip of the season than it did in its last away trip in the European Challenge Cup (ECC) pool stages? Of course the answer is Bourgoin. Just to the east of Lyon, the town of Bourgoin-Jallieu is closer to Venice than it is to Bayonne or Biarritz; Dax or Mont de Marsan.

With the trip to Padova came a narrow loss to the Italian team. It left Bourgoin’s chances of qualification for the knock-out stages dependent on other teams. Fortunately, the last fixture was against the Romanian champions – so there was a fair expectation of a bonus point win and fifteen competition points. As it turned out, the team in sky blue and garnet once more demonstrated the sort of resilience that has served their season well.


Let us return to the beginning of the season. The ECC has been something of a salvation for Bourgoin. The league has been disappointing. Before the first round of ECC matches, the team had scored bonus points in all but one their first seven matches – losing bonus points. The only win came against the long distance travellers from Mont de Marsan. Now a distant last and relegation-bound, Stade Montois were the first to taste defeat at the hands of Bourgoin. Perhaps that should have been feet. The hard-won first victory came courtesy of six Sébastien Laloo penalties.

Up…and…Down again

An encounter with the Bucharest Oaks and a home tie with Petrarca Padova were just the tonic for such a tough start to the season. However, the try-scoring touch was as elusive in Romania as it had been in France. With the win in the bag there were high hopes of making an impact in the competition. Having been battered by Worcester the previous week, Padova put up a stern test. Everything seemed to be coming right when a late try and conversion put Bourgoin ahead but the latest of tries converted by Ludovic Mercier (remember him?) left them with nothing more than yet another losing bonus point.


One more win in the league and three more losing bonus points heralded the December double-header with Worcester. Home wins for each and Padova slipping up at home to Bucharest left les Berjalliers firmly in second place but, on nine points, not at all sure of qualifying for the quarter-finals.


Five penalties were just enough to secure the win at home to Biarritz but they were the only points for Bourgoin over the New Year period. Fifteen Top 14 matches and only 21 points – I believe Sir Alex Ferguson has a phrase for it.


Never mind; revenge against that excruciating defeat and a thorough trouncing of the Romanians would give them confidence to face an awkward run of games. In Padova, a 17 points to 8 half-time lead was improved within five minutes of the restart. Twenty-four points to eight, Bucharest to come, what could possibly go wrong? One more try would be a bonus point; the people of Bourgoin-Jallieu could start planning a spring break.


What could possibly go wrong? A Mercier penalty was no bother, thirteen points to the good and the clock running down. Two yellow cards later and a thirteen-point advantage was starting to look a little vulnerable. Blood and sand, six points up and two men short. Fifteen minutes to play. Crash and bash – over went the Petrarca Number 8 and Ludo put the home team into the lead before the yellow cards had expired. Ouch!


Plenty could wrong in the last round of matches, too. Viadana had already beaten Bayonne in Pays Basques and a home win would see the Italian team into the quarter finals with sixteen points. Oh well! Could it be time for Bourgoin to concentrate on the league? Away from home and ostensibly nothing in the match for them, Bayonne managed to overturn a twelve point deficit with two converted tries in the last eleven minutes. Where are those timetables?

Bourgoin had scrapped and scraped their way into the quarter-finals. The team with the ninth best record (Parma had a slightly better record but finished third in their group) were to visit the team with the best record in the competition – London Irish. Given that they could not even win at lowly Mont de Marsan, not many gave an awful lot for their chances in Reading.

Bourgoin 1Oh how wrong they were. London Irish had started to believe their fans’ opinion that this was a trophy with their name on it. They only had to turn up for the home quarter, a home semi-final with either Worcester or Brive would follow. The last foreign team would be out and Irish would beat anyone in the other half of the draw in the final.


Looping the Loop and Defying the Ground

If only they had bothered to look and see that Bourgoin’s form had picked up. Bourgoin 2They had won consecutive matches in the Top 14 for the first time in the season. Instead, the obdurate team with nothing to lose came to England with a tough pack of forwards and a classy pair of half-backs. One could feel the schadenfreude blowing in all the way from Moscow as Delon Armitage failed to convert his brother’s stoppage-time try.


Beating the top seeds and favourites allowed Bourgoin the relative comfort of a home semi-final against Worcester. They were regarded as favourites having already beaten them on their own turf in December but in the roller-coaster world of CSBJ, there was another little hiccough on the way.


A small matter of € 2,000,000 deficit had to be guaranteed with a call for € 900,000 cash to be paid before the end of April. As we have become aware in our own country, if you seed a subsidy, just about any politician can write you a cheque. God bless the mayor of Bourgoin-Jallieu. He came across with the necessary and the team could look forward to what it hoped would be its last four matches.

Up and not Down

Worcester Warriors were duly despatched. The double was completed over Castres – a win which guaranteed that Bourgoin stay in the Top 14 next season and they really can look forward to the end of the season with confidence.

On the Level? You Have To Be Joking

I have come to the conclusion that this is a club that thrives on adversity. At a time when they could have been preparing for the final and a last league game, they took on the competition organisers. Storm clouds over the Alps were promptly gathered up and deposited over Dublin. How on earth could ERC have made such a decision? Gloucester? It is only 150 kilometres from Northampton – how the Northampton supporters must be laughing.

Remember; this is a team that has four round trips of over a thousand miles each season just to play its league games. Given the trouble they would have had getting the team to Gloucester, let alone any supporters, it is, perhaps, not surprising that they preferred a venue a mere 90-odd kilometres from Northampton. The ERC’s policy of spreading and, thereby, maximising the misery of rugby folk was thoroughly defeated.

Allez les Berjalliers! Come on You Saints! Just one more up and one more down!



ECC-QF pictures courtesy of Empics

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News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final (IP Logged)
17/05/2009 19:30
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Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 2009:05:23:01:20:30 by Phil..

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
ChrisG (IP Logged)
18/05/2009 08:48
Good stuff Richard. For those that have followed French rugby for the last few years they will know that whilst Bourgoin never set the world alight over the season every now and then they pulll an unexpected result out the bag when they put put their minds to it and usually that is after they feel they have been aggreived in some way. Be warned!

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
RedSaint (IP Logged)
18/05/2009 08:56
As I'm a cynic, I think some of Bourgoin's performances in the ERC showed they were about as serious about this competition this year as Agen were when they played Ebbw Vale in "the greatest performance in Welsh club rugby history" or, indeed, as Bourgoin were when they shipped 92 points against Leinster in the Big Boys' Cup in 2004.

Taking nothing away from the Italians or Bucharest, but a Top 14 team that can only win half its games from a group with that make up, and indeed that wouldn't have even qualified (as they'd possibly hoped) under a fairer qualification system, doesn't see the competition as anything that important.

It was their obvious not taking European competition at all seriously again which made me find their desperate whinging for a French venue for the final quite odious, but hey, if Wasps aren't available to play the hard put-upon little club that could card, then someone has to.

That said, they have gone a very long way to redeeming their disinterested pool performances. Any club which knocks out the Notnots from the 'Notnots - ERC Winners 2008/9 Cup' is fine by me. They won further reprieve for making sure Worcester Warriors remain the only top flight English club never to have played Heineken rugby, and finally for giving us the oppourtunity to be the ones responsible for keeping Wasps out of Europe.

Fair play to them for that.

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
smurfomatic (IP Logged)
18/05/2009 08:57
Nice one Richard, good to have the geography pointed out, for those of us that used to think a trip to Stockport was a long trek...

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Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
Phil. (IP Logged)
18/05/2009 19:39
Sorry, Richard, forgot to add my thanks for this article. Another smashing read! (Sm13)

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
Paul Flatt (IP Logged)
18/05/2009 22:19
I should love to be in the cake shop when Mr Red Saint goes to buy cake / to beat himself up for liking cake / to muse on the nature of cake / to watch other cake buyers / to buy cake / to beat himself up (iterate 'til you can't bear any more!)

Leon! Tvarich! - they are French. They shrug. They are uber-pragmatic. They irritate us. Bears sit in the woods.

"Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it."

-- Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 A.D.

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
Howlin (IP Logged)
19/05/2009 12:28
Nice one OSB. Its great to be playing a French side in the final of a European competition rather than another premiership team. It adds to the flavour and the occasion even if it is at the stoop. I believe that they should not be underestimated. I also believe that we are capable of winning. Bring it on.

Saint til I die

Re: News: Bourgoin - The Road to the Final
Wee Jim (IP Logged)
20/05/2009 08:09
Absolutely Howlin - could go either way. Great article OSB

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