Gerry Thornley: Ireland look to avoid a ‘Battle of Bayonne’ against Samoa

O’Driscoll was injured in 2007 following a punch by New Zealand-born Bayonne lock Mikaera Tewhata


A soft day, thank God. After the temperatures hit the 40s on Wednesday, gentle rain landed on a cloudy morning in Bayonne on Friday during Ireland’s Captains Run at the Stade Jean Dauger, which is unrecognisable from the infamous fixture before the 2007 World Cup.

Only one side of the stadium remains from that night, and a stand at one end of the pitch will be built to further increase the capacity from 13,000 to 15,000. At the other end of the pitch there is a new stand, at the back of which are a sequence of interconnected glass-fronted executive lounges which are fittingly described as the apartments.

It made for a pleasant, unofficial work station one day during the week and features a long “table football” for up to four players a side with the teams adorned in the colours of Bayonne and their bitter neighbourhood rivals Biarritz.

Tomorrow’s match between Ireland and Samoa is a sell-out, and though all these warm-up games are necessary evils, it will assuredly be less risky than the infamous Battle of Bayonne in 2007. A hastily arranged “friendly” in addition to two undistinguished warm-up games against Scotland.

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Ireland won 42-6 but the result didn’t matter and long before the end you wanted it over as an inexperienced, 28-year-old Wayne Barnes failed to heed the constant warnings of cheap shots from home players against opponents who were in France’s pool. O’Driscoll sustained a fractured sinus and deep laceration under the eye following a punch by the New Zealand-born Bayonne lock Mikaera Tewhata.

“Very much a bygone era,” said Iain Henderson, who will be captaining Ireland for the third time against Samoa, said of that infamous encounter.

“It was very, very quickly spoken about at the start of the week – sorry, last week when we were in the Aviva, Andrew Trimble might have brought it up, it’s more his vintage!”

Such is the passion and fervour for rugby in Bayonne that tomorrow’s match between Ireland and Samoa is a 13,000 sell-out. The club are back in the Top 14 after winning the ProD2 the season before last, and punched above their weight amid the increasing urbanisation of the French division, not only surviving comfortably but finishing eighth to secure qualification for the Champions Cup.

Indeed, they will bring their convoi exceptionnel to Thomond Park for their debut in the competition on Saturday, December 9th.

Bayonne achieved their top eight place thanks in the main to winning all 12 of their Top 14 matches in the Stade Jean Dauger, their only home defeat was when they moved their game against Pau to San Sebastian.

They continued where they left off in this season’s Top 14 opening night last Friday when beating a Toulouse side missing its 10-strong French World Cup contingent as well as the injured Romain Ntamack, Tonga’s Pita Ahki and Italy’s Ange Capuozzo by 26-7.

The 16-time capped Camille Lopez, for so long a staple part of the Clermont team, is enjoying an Indian Summer at 34 with his hometown club, and kicked 16 points.

Among the crowd, watching the game from a tunnel with a hoodie, was Antoine Dupont. Such is his iconic status and the sense of anticipation in France ahead of this World Cup, that when Dupont was picked out and his image shown on the big screen, that the 13,000-capacity Bayonne crowd chanted his name as one.