If Eddie O’Sullivan can turn things around at Biarritz, it’ll be quite a feather in his cap
Former Ireland coach takes over a shell of a club compared to the one which won its fourth and fifth French championships in 2005 and ‘06
Former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan faces a daunting task at turning fortunes around at Biarritz.
Without a head coaching job in rugby since leaving the USA Eagles after the 2011 World Cup, it became increasingly evident that Eddie O’Sullivan would have to take a plunge if he was to revive his career. He has certainly done that by bravely assuming the mantle at fallen Biarritz Olympique on the surfers’ paradise and sometimes treacherous seas of the Pyrénées-Atlantique in the south-west corner of France.
That he is not known to speak any French is the least of his problems, for knowing O’Sullivan, he is already taking French lessons and will have a decent command of the language by the time he takes over for pre-season at the end of June. He will most likely work with former local players as coaches, with ex-hooker Benoit August, ex-prop Benoit Lecouls and former winger Philippe Bidabe names being touted.
However, he also takes over a shell of a club compared to the one which won its fourth and fifth French championships in 2005 and ‘06, when also losing the Heineken Cup final to Munster in Cardiff by 23-19. That they subsequently routed Toulouse 40-13 in the French final at the Stade de France a few weeks later to retain the bouclier de brennus underlined the merit of Munster’s triumph.
Four years later they would beat Munster in the semi-finals in San Sebastien 18-7, and that night an old-fashioned cart drove around the picturesque tourist town with its population of around 25,000. It took about half an hour to return to where it started.
This was not the equivalent of Munster reaching the European Cup final, but Schull or Inchydoney.
Back in ‘06 their golden generation of Dimitri Yachvili, Imanol Harinordoquy, Damien Traille et all were in their pomp. Biarritz also had one of the four biggest budgets in the Top 14, thanks in the main to the backing of Serge Kampf, a French businessman who founded the computer services company Capgemini in 1967 and friend of former player-cum-club president Serge Blanco, whose drive and ambition helped swell their budget further.
Now 80, Kampf retired from Capgemini in April of 2012 and has significantly curtailed his investment in Biarritz. As part of Capgemini’s long-standing sponsorship of the club, they ploughed €3 million annually into BO, and Kampf is reckoned to have further supplemented this annually with around €2 million from his own pocket.
Meantime, along came benefactors such as Max Guazzini at Stade Francais, Mourad Boudjellal at Toulon and Jacky Lorenzetti at Racing Metro, to compete with Clermont and Toulouse. As the reliance on the BO old guard became more pronounced, the Challenge Cup triumph of two years ago was their last sting.
The warning signs were there last season when injuries and the international commitments of Yachvili, Harinordoquy and Traille made relegation a real prospect until their return prompted a late upsurge in form, and the mix between the veterans and the young players this season didn’t work. Such was their winning ratio with Yachvili and losing ratio without him that L’Equipe ran a sizeable article under the heading “Yachvili dependant”, but even his waning powers couldn’t save them this season.