Union Bordeaux Bègles (UBB) were formed in 2006, when two clubs in the city of Bordeaux merged. One of those sides was Stade Bordelais (founded 1889), winners of seven French championships between 1899 and 1911. The other part of the amalgamation was Club Athlétique Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde (founded 1907), French champions in 1969 and 1991. By the mid-2000s, Stade Bordelais were playing in the Pro D2, with Club Athlétique Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde a step lower in Fédérale 1 following financial problems.
Having two mediocre clubs in the city was proving counter-intuitive to success and local businesses found it difficult to decide which club to back financially. In the summer of 2006, the clubs merged to form the ridiculously-named Union Stade Bordelais – C.A. Bordeaux-Bègles Gironde (USBCABBG). Neither club wanted to give up their name, and other teething problems included arguments over whose stadium to use. The new club took Stade Bordelais’ place in the Pro D2, and in 2008 changed their name to Union Bordeaux Bègles.
The early ambition was to see UBB return to the Top 14 swiftly. In 2011, the club finished 5th in the Pro D2 and beat Albi in a promotion play-off final. Under current USAP coach Marc Delpoux, les Bordelais surprised everyone by finishing eighth in their first season in the Top 14. Club president Laurent Marti has been in place since the beginning, and has worked hard at attracting partners to the club in order to increase the budget each year. Heading into this season, UBB are working off a figure in the region of €12.5 million.
Bordeaux is the ninth largest city in France with a population of around 240,000. It’s the capital of the Aquitaine region in the South-West of France. UBB’s first home is the Stade André Moga, with a capacity of 9,600. The ex-stade of CABBG is sometimes referred to as Stade Musard, after the field it was built upon. For their bigger games, UBB use the Stade Chaban-Delmas, with space for 34,700. This stadium is also home to Bordeaux’s football team.
After helping UBB to eighth place on their return to the Top 14 in 2011/12 despite the lowest budget in the league, Marc Delpoux jumped ship to Perpignan. In his place, Marti appointed French rugby legend Raphaël Ibañez. UBB were always likely to suffer from ‘second-album syndrome’ and they finished the season in 12th. That might look perilously close to relegation, but UBB finished a comfortable 16 points ahead of 13th-placed Agen.
Ibañez’s side won many fans (including myself) for their exciting, ambitious style of play and they finished fifth in the Top 14 try-scoring stakes overall. However, six home losses and just one victory on their travels didn’t help. UBB lost many matches by very small margins, highlighted by their nine losing bonus points and a points difference of just -23.
UBB are an ambitious club, but under Marti they are realistic too. Their aim this season will be simply to win more games, with a finish in the top 10 the target. Marti’s three-year plan ideally sees UBB pushing for a Heineken Cup spot, but he insists that “the sole ambition for this season consists of doing everything possible to ensure staying up with as much comfort as possible.” Marti is a firm believer that first team success is the best way to grow the club and its budget year-on-year, so the pressure is on Ibañez to improve on last season’s 12th.
Ibañez took over at UBB last summer, in what was his first appointment as a head coach. During his playing career, the hooker earned 98 caps for France (34 as captain), winning two Grand Slams, two Six Nations and finishing runner-up of the 1999 World Cup. In club rugby, his honours included a Heineken Cup, Premiership and Anglo-Welsh cup with Wasps. Ibañez is a genuine legend of rugby. The 40-year-old admits to having learned from coaching mistakes last season and told Midi Olympique: “I hope to be more clear-headed in the decisions I have to make throughout the season.”
33-year-old prop Jean-Baptiste Poux joins UBB after 11 trophy-laden seasons at Toulouse. Capped 37 times for France, he can play on both sides of the scrum and will add grunt to the front row. Samoan back row Taiasina Tui’fua joins from Newcastle. His 115kg ball-carrying strength is likely to be used at No. 8, but a place is the first team is no guarantee. Poutasi Luafutu is another versatile new back row option. The 25-year-old Australian helped Brive to promotion from the Pro D2 last season. Luafutu’s power in open play makes him an exciting addition.
In total, UBB have brought in 19 new players, with 16 leaving. By far the biggest loss is last season’s superb outhalf Camille Lopez, who has left for USAP. The task of replacing him is given to Pierre Bernard, who joins from Castres. At 24, Bernard is seen as a player of great potential. He was first-choice outhalf at Castres in 2011/12 but fell behind Rémi Tales last season. UBB need him to fulfill his early promise. France-capped centre Thibault Lacroix signs from Bayonne hoping to resurrect his career, while France U20s No. 8 Marco Tauleigne joins from Bourgoin, and looks promising.
Samoan hooker Ole Avei is quite possibly the best hooker in France. He has become a true fans’ favourite since joining for their promotion season in 2010/11. His power in contact and pace in attack make the 30-year-old a vital part of the team. UBB are captained by England-born Kiwi Matthew Clarkin (32). He moved to Bordeaux in 2010 after five seasons with Montauban, where he was also captain. The No. 8’s leadership will be important again this season, but he faces competition for his place in the first team.
South African scrumhalf Heini Adams is a lively, tempo-setting presence. The 33-year-old played Super Rugby with the Bulls and came close to being capped for the ‘Boks before joining UBB in 2010. At 5ft 6ins and 77kg, Adams is hardly physically imposing, but he is brave and provides rapid service. Likely to start the season at fullback is Bruce Reihana, the ex-Northampton stalwart and twice-capped All Black. Despite being 37 now, Reihana still stands up to the Top 14’s demanding physical standards.
On the wing, Metuisela Talebula can be a lethal presence. The 22-year-old Fijian international’s pace and finishing ability were developed on the sevens circuit before joining UBB at the start of last season. He scored eight tries in 22 appearances and will be confident of improving on that.
He’s an Englishman but he did play for the British and Irish Lions: Joe Worsley. During 78 caps for England and one Test start for the Lions, the flanker made an art form of tackling. He was the Dan Lydiate of the 2000s. The 36-year-old retired in 2011 and last summer Ibañez, his ex-teammate, came calling with the position of defence coach at UBB. Worsley’s first season in charge was successful, with les Bordelais having the 8th-best defence in the Top 14. However, UBB were 2nd in terms of both penalties conceded and yellow cards. Discipline is one of the areas they need to tighten up, but there is plenty of cause for optimism in Bordeaux this season.