One of the Top 14's poorest teams are making the filthy rich look very foolish

Ever heard of Oyonnax? They are doing impressive things on a tight budget.

Christophe Urios has been a miracle worker with Oyonnax this season.
Christophe Urios has been a miracle worker with Oyonnax this season.

BERNARD JACKMAN HAS earned a lot of praise for the positive brand of attacking rugby played by his Grenoble side this season, and they lie in eighth place in the Top 14 with four rounds to go.

Elsewhere, despite a season of disarray that saw head coach Fabien Galthie lose control of his star-studded squad, former World Cup-winning boss Jake White now has Montpellier in seventh.

And the presumed new coach of the French national team, Raphael Ibanez, somewhat disappointingly only has Bordeaux-Begles in ninth.

Somehow, sitting in the final Champions Cup qualification place as we near the campaign’s end, are Oyonnax.


There is a good chance you might not be overly familiar with the French club. After all, this is only their second season back in the Top 14 after a lengthy absence. They only avoided relegation on a tie-breaker last season but head coach Christophe Urios has turned a few euros into home-brewed Moët in this campaign.

On Saturday, they travelled to the Stade Marcel Michelin to face Clermont in arguably the most hostile club rugby atmosphere around.

Amazingly, they pulled off a stunning 11-10 victory to open up a three point lead in sixth.


But when you start delving into the numbers, it’ll make you bat your eyes at the Oyonnax boss in a manner people usually reserve for St. Schmidt.

This is the list of the Top 14 budgets from the highest to the lowest (in millions of euros):

1. Toulouse (35.02)
2. Clermont (27,90)
3. Toulon (25,37)
4. Racing: (25,36)
5. Stade français (25,28)
6. Montpellier (22,54)
7. Lyon (21,03)
8. Grenoble (20,77)
9. Castres (19,04)
10. UBB (15,86)
11. Bayonne (15,76)
12. La Rochelle (14,47)
13. Oyonnax (14,28)
14. Brive (13,63)

The Alpine club have the second lowest budget so shouldn’t be within an ass’ roar of the Champions Cup places.

Lyon are an example of the gluttonous waste prevalent in French rugby. Despite having the seventh biggest budget they are bottom of the table and will almost certainly be relegated.

Big money signings of players past their best such as George Smith, Lionel Nallet, Ricky Januarie and Stephen Brett have backfired spectacularly.

ToulouseÕs Thierry Dusautoir under pressure Toulouse have spent over €20 million more than Oyonnax this season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

By contrast, Urios has shrewdly stocked his team with seasoned performers who don’t command as large a salary. You might have noticed former Northampton behemoth Soane Tonga’uiha barelling over for a try earlier in this piece and he is joined in the pack by quality back rows in Maurie Fa’asavalu (ex-Quins) and Pedrie Wannenburg (ex-Ulster).

Their backline functions because of a great 10/12 partnership between Argentine Benjamin Urdapilleta and Tongan Hemani Paea, who assisted the decisive try against Clermont.


Urios’ work with the minnows hasn’t gone unnoticed either. He was linked with both the French job and a role with Toulon before agreeing to take over at Castres at the end of the season.

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And of course, like all good French teams they work themselves into a gladiatorial frenzy for their home games.  Oyonnax have won nine of 11 on their own patch with the only two losses coming against Toulon and Clermont.

Their away form hasn’t been too bad either and they’ve scalped Clermont, Racing and Stade Francais en route to their current position.

It would be a cruelly funny turn of events were Urios to guide Oyonnax to the Champions Cup while his new team get relegated, but Castres are only outside the relegation zone because of a tiebreaker at the moment.

BRITAIN ENGLAND ARGENTINA RUGBY Benjamin Urdapilleta is one of the most underrated out-halves in the Top 14. Source: Associated Press

Oyonnax have four games left: home to Lyon and Racing and away to Toulon and Bordeaux. Three wins would likely be enough to earn them that coveted Champions Cup place but even if they fail, they have still showed that their is an awful lot of abysmal buying done in the Top 14.

Toulon have gotten in right – we’ll have more on that later in the week – but look at Toulouse. €35 million spent and they are fifth in the table, having failed to escape their Champions Cup pool.

They’ve spent €20 million more than Oyonnax and have four more league points – just five million quid per extra point.

In an era where money almost guarantees some sort of success – particularly in France – it is heartening to see how far some shrewd coaching and committed performances can take a small club.

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