Tag Archives: UBB

We Need to Talk About… Metuisela Talebula

Talebula

Talebula scored a wonderful try in UBB’s 31-25 win over Toulouse last weekend. (c) UBB.

Toulouse were on the attack, 30 metres from UBB’s tryline and with a 9-6 lead, when Clément Poitrenaud’s attempted offload went to ground. Talebula was onto it in a blink, toeing the ball 20 metres ahead and burning past the panicking Poitrenaud. Talebula won the race by a clear metre and gave the ball a second, more delicate touch with his left boot.

The hulking figure of Joe Tekori began looming over his shoulder, but Talebula calmly nudged the pill a third time with his right foot, by now just six metres from the Toulouse tryline. The ball struck the right-hand post, bouncing into Talebula’s expectant hands as he dived over to score.

For the ever-improving Metuisela Talebula, the outcome was never in doubt.

His close control makes sense when you learn that the 22-year-old had a spell at centre back for the football team at Drasa Secondary School in his native Lautoka, Fiji. His rugby career began with the Lautoka Crushers under-9s rugby league team, before he switched to union at the age of 16. Talebula won the Deans Trophy (Fiji’s premier schools competition) in 2009 and 2010, while also being chosen as Fiji Secondary Schools Player of the Year in ’09.

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Having already played both league and union, it was in the third rugby code that Talebula first garnered international attention. His form in sevens competitions for the Natabua Rugby Club resulted in a call-up to the Fiji squad for the IRB London and Edinburgh sevens tournaments in May 2011. Having excelled at flyhalf, Talebula was named in Fiji’s U20 squad for the Junior World Championship the following month. Playing at fullback, outhalf and centre, the Lautoka man scored three tries in four starts.

The versatile back’s name (Talebulamaijaini in full) began to get around and Clermont, through their Nadroga academy in Fiji, invited him to France to view their facilities and partake in training. Following that brief experience, Talebula decided to sign a deal with the Fijian sevens set-up for the 2011/12 season and helped them to second place in the IRB World Sevens Series. The flyhalf scored 25 tries and finished second in the individual points-scoring charts with 271.

Racing Metro tracked the Fijian intently for some time and Clermont still had interest, but Talebula eventually signed his first professional 15-a-side contract with a far less renowned club. In June 2012, his move to Union Bordeaux-Bègles was announced, with Talebula telling the Bangkok Post, “I’m still 21 and have a long way to go in my rugby career, so I have decided to play overseas as it will help me develop the way I play. The level of competition there will make me a better rugby player.”

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Earlier in the same month, the 6ft 1ins pace merchant had made a sensational start to his senior international career, scoring three tries in two appearances against Tonga and Scotland. Lining out at fullback, Talebula displayed the explosive running style and awareness that would make him such a success in France. Three more starts at fullback have followed for Fiji against England, Ireland and Georgia last November. There are many more caps to come.

Talebula’s first season with UBB was undoubtedly positive. Language and other cultural adjustments were mirrored by a bedding-in period on the pitch but after scoring in his seventh appearance the Fijian didn’t look back, ending the season with eight tries. Talebula mainly played on the wing, although he did start thrice at fullback. UBB’s backs coach Vincent Etcheto sees his future at outside centre.

Despite a physically taxing first season with Bordeaux, Talebula decided to join the Fiji squad for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June. Reinstalled at flyhalf, he was the tournament’s top try-scorer with seven in six games, as Fiji finished in third place. Talebula’s sevens background and his positional versatility point to the rounded skill set he has developed.

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Many Fijian backs are pure finishers, with Napolioni Nalaga a fine example. While Talebula is certainly lethal close to the tryline, there is more to his game. His kicking skills are complemented by excellent offloading ability and piercing vision. Defensively, he does not shirk responsibility and will only improve in this area as his French does too. Timid off the pitch, Talebula must work on his communication during games.

The year in France has seen the 22-year-old become more efficient athletically. Talebula has filled out to nearly 100kg but has retained his natural leanness. He always had speed but now his stride is that of a sprinter’s, streamlined and methodical. Ludovic Loustau, UBB’s préparateur physique, has taken Talebula’s raw physical potential and begun to shape it into something even more potent. The Fijian’s attitude and hard work have been to key to progress.

Upon joining UBB, the Lautoka native signed a two-year espoir contract (similar to a development contract). That deal expires next June and the likes of Toulouse, Clermont, Toulon and Leicester have already cast lustful glances in Talebula’s direction. However, his agent Frédéric Bonhomme told Midi Olympique that the Fijian is “attached to Bordeaux-Bègles and likes the atmosphere there. He knows it’s not a small club. It’s a club of great potential. Extending [his contract] is a genuine option.”

If UBB can uphold the standard they set against Toulouse last weekend, Talebula may consider staying. However, the graceful Fijian will be ready for bigger things by next season and the money men will come calling. UBB’s supporters should appreciate the Talebula show before it moves on.

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Photo: UBB.

Top 14 Preview: Bordeaux

UBBThe History

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.

The Setting

Stade Chaban

The Stade Chaban-Delmas is where UBB play their big games. (c) UBB.

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.

Last Season

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.

Ambitions

UBB Supporters

UBB are an ambitious club under Laurent Marti. (c) UBB.

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.

The Coach

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.”

Transfer Activity

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.

Ibanez and Worsley

Raphaël Ibañez is head coach at UBB, with Joe Worsley in charge of defence. (c) UBB.

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.

Key Players

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.

Talebula

Talebula celebrates one of his eight tries last season. (c) UBB.

Irish Connection

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.

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Photos: UBB.