Tag Archives: Mike Prendergast

Top 14 Preview: Grenoble

LOGOTYPE_FCG

The History

Football Club de Grenoble Rugby is one of the few French clubs whose origins lie in the 19th century. In 1892, students of the Lycée Champollion founded the Association Athlétique du Lycée and in 1911, that club merged with three others to form FCG. By 1918 the club had reached the final of the Coupe de l’Espérance, which replaced the French championship during World War 1. Unfortunately, FC Grenoble lost to Racing Club de France, who would later become Racing Metro.

FCG had to wait until 1954 to become champions of France for the first (and only) time. They beat US Cognac 5-3 in the final, inspired by legendary scrumhalf Jean Liénard. The next period of success for the Isère-based club came in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 1987, the club won the Challenge Yves du Manoir and the club were regular challengers for the league title during that period. In 1993, powered by a pack nicknamed Les MammouthsFCG reached the final but lost 14-11 to Castres due to a controversial try by All Black Gary Whetton.

In 1999/00, FCG made an appearance in the group stages of the Heineken Cup and beat Northampton, who went on to win the tournament that season. By 2005/06, Grenoble had been relegated to the Fédérale 1 due to a €3.6 million deficit in their accounts. FCG went straight up to the Pro D2 that season and spent the next six years steadily improving in the second tier. At the end of 2011/12, Grenoble were crowned champions and promoted to the Top 14.

The Setting

Tribune Liénard

Stade Lesdiguières with mountains in the background. The stand in view is named the ‘Tribune Liénard’ after the club’s legendary scrumhalf and coach. (c) Wiki Commons.

Grenoble sits in the mountainous Isère department, within the Rhône-Alpes region in the south-east of France. The city has a population of close to 157,000. FCG’s home is the Stade Lesdiguières, with a capacity of 11,900. For the bigger games, FCG use the Stade des Alpes, home to Grenoble Foot 38 and which holds 20,000. In February, FCG announced plans to build a new stand at the Stade Lesdiguières, which will feature training facilities, offices and VIP boxes. The construction will boost the stade’s capacity and work is expected to commence next summer.

Last Season

On their return to the Top 14 last season, Grenoble got off to a scintillating start. After putting down a strong pre season, les Isèrois picked up wins over the likes of Stade Francais, Racing Metro, USAP and Toulouse in the aller phase of the league before Christmas. Up until match day 18, FCG were sitting sixth in the table before finishing the season with a bad run of form. Seven losses in eight games saw Grenoble end the season in 11th, but they were 23 points clear of relegated Agen in 13th.

FCG’s defence, under the watch of Bernard Jackman, was ninth-best in the league in terms of points conceded, with their attack 11th overall. Whatever about the stats, it was a case of job done for Grenoble last season. The single objective had been to stay up following promotion and their excellent form in 2012 ensured that was achieved.

Ambitions

Grenoble are built around a strong team spirit. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Grenoble will be aiming to repeat the effort of last year. Of most importance is avoiding relegation but if FCG can get off to as strong a start as last season, they can work towards mid-table solidity. President Marc Chérèque understands the need for the club to grow each year, and with that in mind Grenoble should be targeting a finish in the top 10. Head coach Fabrice Landreau decided to bring his squad back for pre season earlier than any other team in the Top 14, hoping that extra fitness base will prevent another collapse in the retour phase of the league.

The Coach

Having begun his playing career in the lower leagues with his native Angoulême, Landreau joined Grenoble in 1992 and became part of the Mammouths de Grenoble pack who almost won the French championship in ’93. The hooker left FCG in ’97 and had brief spells with Neath RFC, Bristol and Racing Metro. In ’99 Landreau joined Stade Francais and helped them to the French championship alongside the likes of Diego Dominguez and Christophe Dominici. Following that success, he earned his first French cap at the age of 31, going on to win four in total.

After retiring in 2003, Landreau only had to wait a year for his first coaching job. Fabien Galthié was appointed head coach at Stade Francais and asked Landreau to look after the forwards. Over the next five seasons, the ex-hooker helped the club to a Top 14 trophy, a H Cup final, and three Top 14 semi-finals. In 2009, Grenoble made the shrewd move of offering Landreau his first head coaching position. Since then, the 44-year-old has led FCG to consistent improvement: 6th in the Pro D2, semi-finalists the next year, Pro D2 champions in 2012 and 11th in the Top 14 last season.

Transfer Activity

Olly Barkley

Barkley joins after a unsuccessful spell at Racing. (c) Pierre-Selim.

The most familiar name to have joined l’effectif at Grenoble this summer is Olly Barkley. The 31-year-old signed for Racing Metro as a medical joker last season, but failed to impress in 11 starts. Rather than return home, the 22-times capped Englishman has taken up the challenge of aiding FCG’s rise. Landreau will hope to see Barley at his goal-kicking, strong-running best. Another place-kicking option will be Julien Caminati, recruited from Brive. The fullback/wing was superb in the Pro D2 last season and is relishing the chance to prove himself in the Top 14 again.

The two most important additions Grenoble have made are Peter Kimlin and Dan Palmer from the Brumbies. Kimlin (27) impressed in the Australian side’s win over the Lions, and has been superb in this year’s Super Rugby. His ability to cover the back row and lock will be vital. Palmer (24) is considered among the best scrummaging tightheads in Australia, but his intro to the Top 14 will help him discover exactly what it means to scrummage every single weekend.

Amongst the other new faces are centre Geoffrey Messina, who is something of a Top 14 veteran with previous spells at Clermont, Stade Francais and Toulon. Halfback Nicolas Bézy (23) signs from Stade Francais, hoping to finally fulfill his potential. The biggest loss for FCG this summer is Jonathan Pelissié, a lively halfback who has joined Montpellier. Talented winger Lucas Dupont (23) also leaves les Grenoblois for Montpellier.

Key Players

Dan Palmer

New tighthead Dan Palmer success at adapting to the scrummaging demands of the Top 14 will be key. (c) Brumbies Rugby.

FCG are captained by Andrew Farley, born in Australia but capped for Ireland ‘A’ during his five seasons with Connacht. Since moving to Grenoble in 2009, Farley has been almost ever-present in the team and at 32, shows no signs of slowing down. Scrumhalf Valentin Courrent is as experienced as they come in the Top 14 but will come under pressure from Bézy and Mathieu Lorée this season.

In the back row, Jonathan Best has been a stalwart for the club since joining in 2006 and has the ability to play 6 or 7. Generally, Grenoble are as far from a team of stars as you will get, and team work is a big part of their make-up. That’s likely to be the case again this season, although the new signings will be expected to make a match-winning difference.

Irish Connection

TOM CLIFFORD PARK

Mike Prendergast during his playing days for Young Munster. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Farley is not the only Irish player on the books at Grenoble. 21-year-old James Hart is going into the second year of his espoirs contract after making an impact last season. The ex-Leinster U20 halfback made six appearances including two starts in the Top 14. He also proved himself to be a tidy goal-kicker with three penalties and three conversions. Hart will be hoping for further opportunities with FCG this season, despite plenty of competition at scrumhalf.

Bernard Jackman is also moving into his second year at the club. His role at FCG has been expanded this season to include working on collision skills as well as defence. It’s encouraging to see the ex-Ireland international involved in such a technical position, where he is joined by another Irish coach in Mike Prendergast. The former Munster scrumhalf joins the club as a skills coach, following several seasons as Director of Rugby with Young Munster.

Also joining from Young Munster is outhalf/centre Shane O’Leary. The Munster U20 cap made his Ulster Bank League debut under Prendergast last season, as well as playing for Canada U20s at the Junior World Rugby Trophy. O’Leary joins Grenoble’s academy, and is one worth keeping an eye on.

With such a strong Irish influence, Grenoble will surely have many supporters on these shores for the upcoming season.

——————–

Photos: Liam Coughlan, Pierre-Selim.

The Exiled Irish: Les Grenoblois

Grenoble

Grenoble’s Stade Lesdiguières has become home for three Irish professionals. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks.

This time a year ago, The Touchline featured an Exiled Irish piece on four Irish professionals contracted in France. Picking up in that vein, this article looks at the growing Irish community at French Top 14 club Grenoble. The Isère-based outfit currently have two Irish players on their cards, as well as a coach. James Hart and Andrew Farley are at very different stages of their careers, but both are enjoying success at Grenoble. The experiences of Hart should encourage young Irish players who miss out on Academy and provincial contracts that there are other options, while Farley’s example will surely inspire older professionals to try something different.

Meanwhile, the success of Bernard Jackman in his first season at Grenoble will be equally encouraging to young Irish coaches, as well as to other French clubs. With Jackman’s positive impact comes more international acceptance of the quality of Irish coaches. The news that Mike Pendergast will join Jackman as Grenoble’s Skills Coach may be a sign of things to come for Irish backroom staff. With 30 professional clubs spread over the Top 14 and Pro D2, as well as a host of semi-pro teams in Fédérale 1, there is far greater need for good coaches. The more Irish players and coaches we can have playing and working regularly in a professional environment, the better Irish rugby will be.

——————–

James Hart

Hart’s move to Grenoble last summer was one that flew well under the radar. The  21-year-old halfback is Dublin-born and attended Belvedere College. His mother hails from Toulouse, and Hart’s rugby education was kick-started there. At the age of 16, Hart moved to Toulouse for transition year, living with his grandparents. He stayed for 8 months, playing for Stade Toulousain’s Cadet team alongside the likes of Jean-Marc Doussain and Nicolas Bézy. Hart claims that period made him “physically and technically stronger“. He returned to Ireland to play Schools Senior Cup, as well as for Leinster up to U20 level.

Having graduated from school in 2010, and with no Academy offer from Leinster, Hart joined AIL side Clontarf, where he was coached by Bernard Jackman. This relationship resulted in Hart joining Grenoble a year later, in the summer of 2011. His first season at FCG saw the halfback play for the Espoirs side (U23 level), while training with the pro side. This season has seen Hart make big strides. He made his first senior start last December, playing outhalf in FCG’s 20-9 win over London Welsh in the Challenge Cup. Substitue appearances followed in the return match and against Stade Francais in the same competition.

The 83kg Dubliner had to wait a little longer for his first Top 14 chance. Last month, he started at scrumhalf in the 33-16 loss away to Biarritz and then came off the bench against Bayonne just 2 weeks ago. Hart’s goal-kicking skills have seen him convert 3 penalties (one of which earned FCG a losing bonus point in the last minute) and 2 conversions in his 5 appearances so far. Grenoble appear to see the youngster as a scrumhalf, but he has plenty of experience at outhalf. He also played in the centre for Clontarf (as shown in the video above). His impressive progress this season has resulted in him signing a new two-year deal.  Certainly one to watch next season for Irish rugby fans.

Grenoble Profile: James Hart

——————–

Andrew Farley

Farley has been captaining Grenoble since

Farley (first on left) has been captaining Grenoble since 2010. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks

Farley was one of those featured in the original Exiled Irish piece mentioned above. Born in Australia (and capped at U19 and U21 level), the second-row qualified for Ireland on residency grounds after 5 seasons with Connacht. That spell followed short stints in Italy with L’Aquila (under Mike Brewer) and Wales with Swansea. The Brisbane-native was part of the Ireland ‘A’ side who won the Plate at the 2007 Churchill Cup. In 2009, Farley decided to take up an offer from Grenoble, then in Pro D2, and hasn’t looked back since.

His first season at the Isère club saw them finish 6th, before agonisingly missing out on automatic promotion to the Top 14 by just 2 points in the ’10/11 season. Already a key player thanks to his excellent line-out work and leadership, the 112kg lock was installed as captain that season. The following year, FCG stormed to the Pro D2 title, 18 points clear of 2nd-placed Pau. Most promoted sides have serious struggles in the Top 14, but that hasn’t been the case for Grenoble. Their excellent start to the season meant they were realistically safe by Christmas. Last weekend’s stunning last-gasp win over Toulon left them 9th, with just one game to go.

32-year-old Farley has enjoyed 14 starts in the league campaign as well as 5 in the Challenge Cup. His form shows no sign of decline and he recently penned a new deal keeping him in France until the end of the ’13/14 season, with the option of another year. Grenoble are an ambitious club and look set to continue their rise. Adopted Irish man Farley will continue to play a key part.

Grenoble Profile: Andrew Farley     Twitter: @BruceFarls

——————–

Bernard Jackman

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Ex-Ireland, Leinster and Connacht hooker Jackman is coming to the end of his first full season as the club’s Defence Coach. The Tullow-native’s playing career saw him win 9 caps for Ireland, as well as a Heineken Cup with Leinster in 2009. He also enjoyed a spell with Sale, where he won a Challenge Cup. His coaching career began in 2005 at Newbridge Rugby Club. He led Newbridge to Leinster League Division 3 title and a Lalor Cup, before taking over at Coolmine RFC in 2007. Success followed again, culminating with the Dublin 15 side winning Leinster League Division 2 in 2009.

Jackman’s long-time club side Clontarf came calling in 2009, and he joined as Head Coach. With the Leinster hooker still playing at that stage, the ’09/10 season saw them relegated from Division 1A of the then AIB League. However, having retired from playing ahead of the ’10/11 season, Jackman helped the club bounce straight back up. The summer of 2011 saw Jackman resign for “professional developmental reasons” and he went on a two-month consultancy period with Grenoble, then in the Pro D2. Head Coach Fabrice Landreau was evidently impressed and Jackman signed on full-time for the start of the current season.

FCG’s promotion to the Top 14 meant Jackman was stepping into the fire in his new role as Defence and Skills Coach. However, Jackman and the rest of the coaching staff enjoyed a hugely positive start to the season, winning 10 of their first 15 league matches up until the New Year. Since then, the wins have been rare, just 1 in 9 games until last weekend’s win over Toulon. Still, for a promoted team it’s been a fantastic first season back in the top flight. Jackman has made a big impression and recently signed a new 1-year contract with the club, with a new title of Defence and Collisions coach. It’s great to see Irish coaches working in technical roles such as this at a top-level. That knowledge can hopefully help the Irish provinces and national team at some stage. Still only 36, Jackman has a long coaching career ahead of him. His rise looks set to continue.

Grenoble Profile: Bernard Jackman     Twitter: @bernardjackman

——————–

Grenoble’s last game of the season is in two week’s time, May the 4th, away to Toulouse. They’re 9th (joint-8th really) heading into that game, but nothing is decided yet. Depending on the outcome, and results elsewhere, they could finish anywhere from 8th to 11th. Their achievements look all the better when you compare them to the other promoted side, Mont de Marsan. They’ve won just 2 league games all season. Grenoble are a hugely ambitious club, and should push on again next year.

——————–

Photos: Vijay Photwalk, Paul Walsh.