Agen facing record defeat
TOP14 PREVIEW: Agen president Jean-Francois Fonteneau said this season is a “write-off” as his side look to avoid a record 16th straight defeat to start a French Top 14 campaign by hosting fellow strugglers Montpellier on Saturday.
Fonteneau, who took over the eight-time champions three years’ ago, said his club had issues even before the term began, ahead of potentially beating the unwanted record they currently share with Perpignan who lost their first 15 in 2018-19.
“This one is a write-off which started very poorly because we were the first club hit by Covid,” he told AFP this week.
“For two weeks at the end of July, we were unable to prepare as planned. We had to stop totally. It’s not the only reason for our failure but it didn’t help the start of our season,” he added.
The 57-year-old businessman sacked head coach Christophe Laussucq in November after seven losses. He then picked the team for the next game before Tonga hooker Paul Ngauamo and former England under-20s winger Gabriel Ibitoye left the club in January.
“Everything came out in broad daylight. There are always situations that are tense within a squad… then everything was brought to light. And then things piled up,” Fonteneau said.
“Unfortunately when you lose a lot of games in a row, you become a target for other clubs, it becomes imperative for them to win against us. By losing to us, they put themselves in trouble,” he added.
Fonteneau replaced Laussacq with Regis Sonnes, who played for the club between 1998-2001 and was part of Toulouse’s league-winning coaching staff two years’ ago and said the focus has already changed to the future and featuring in the second-tier Pro D2.
“We are in the process of launching a new stadium, a new training centre. We’ve moved on,” he said.
“It’s not nice but the goal is to finish correctly, so that the players, those that are staying, can prepare correctly for next season,” he added.
This weekend Agen, who have been relegated to Pro D2 twice over the past decade and have former France centre Philippe Sella as their director of rugby, entertain the billionaire-backed Montpellier who are in 12th place in the table.
The fixture at Stade Armandie is the hosts’ first match since January 23’s hammering by Toulouse after cases of Covid-19 among Sonnes’ squad and last Saturday’s scheduled opponents Clermont.
“We’ll try and do things correctly, to take on this test in good conditions, so it does some good. But we’re still weakened,” Fonteneau said.
“We have a lot of players who are lagging behind, others who won’t come back. We hadn’t trained for two week so we’re not in the best state. Afterwards, the determination and the desire will be there.”
Racing 92 v Castres
La Rochelle v Stade Francais
Pau v Toulon
Agen v Montpellier
Clermont v Bayonne
Brive v Bordeaux-Begles
Lyon v Toulouse