Belfast Telegraph

Domestic battles already the main priority for Bordeaux

By Michael Sadler

It was pretty dire stuff at the Stade Chaban-Delmas last Sunday as Bordeaux-Begles lost out to Pool Five winners Clermont by a mere three penalties to two. All in all, a fairly meek way to effectively bow out of the Champions Cup for the side currently seventh in the Top 14.

Though Raphael Ibanez's side do retain some rather slender-looking hopes of creeping into the last eight should they win handsomely against Ulster today in addition to other results going their way as well.

Leaving that aside, the focus for Bordeaux has been on their domestic form anyway, what with them unsurprisingly losing home and away to Clermont and then also managing to be turned over at home by Exeter Chiefs even though the French did manage to triumph at Sandy Park.

The narrative which always looked likely to pan out in Pool Five always had one of the tournament's favourites Clermont managing to progress by topping the table, so it was a case of then doing enough to bag a best runner-up spot to reach the quarter-finals.

One try bonus and a sole losing bonus point in five games was never going to put them in a strong position to progress in Europe beyond the group stages and last weekend's slugfest with Clermont might even have been an exercise in shadow boxing as Bordeaux host the Top 14 leaders next weekend in what looks an all-important clash for the hosts.

Just one win from their last five Top 14 games, with the side yet to taste victory since the turn of the year, has not been great reading for former French hooker Ibanez and his coaching ticket of fellow ex-international legend Emile Ntamack and Italy's former head coach Jacques Brunel.

In fact, the last time they finished ahead was when hosting La Rochelle back in November, though since then, domestically, they have played just the once at home when Pau beat them.

Things are looking pretty tight for Bordeaux in the Top 14 table as well and even though they are two behind Castres, who are in sixth, both Brive and Racing are just one adrift of Ibanez's men.

The approach to this game has seen Ibanez keep only six of the starting team from last weekend's clash with Ian Madigan retained at out-half along with centre Josaia Vakacegu, winger Nans Ducuing, lock Tom Palmer and No.8 Marco Tauleigne, while Jean-Baptiste Dubie has been moved from centre to the wing and Loann Goujon from blindside to openside flanker.

Bordeaux have therefore gone for a new-look front row of Steven Kitshoff, Clement Maynadier and Marc Clerc though there is plenty of menace on their bench in Sebastien Taofifenua - who came on to score against Ulster in October - and Vadim Cobilas in an area where they will reckon on having the upper hand.

But just how much do Bordeaux want this today?

A win would be a neat way to sign off - barring the unlikely case of them getting through - and might see them finish second in Pool Five.

Yes, but the priority is still next week's game with Clermont.

Belfast Telegraph

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