Tuesday’s Basque derby was always going to be a spiky affair – Biarritz, bottom of the table and without a home win in the league this season, against the star-studded ensemble put together on the chequebook of France’s Mr Specsavers, Alain Afflelou.
The two clubs share a proud heritage while their home grounds are just five kilometres apart. The occasion was given additional significance by the clubs’ disappointing starts to the season. Biarritz, champions three times in the last decade, were bottom and without a league win at home this season. Bayonne, meanwhile, having seen their budget boosted by 45 per cent over the past two years, continue to battle in the bottom half.
Basque pride and even top flight status were at stake.
Caught in the middle holding the whistle was the Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon. He will have been anticipating a lively affair but, like just about everyone else, could not have possibly predicted what came to pass under the floodlights at the Stade Aguilera.
The result was, of course, significant though not the real story of the night. For the record, in a desperate and dramatic conclusion – and with the last kick of the game - Julien Peyrelongue’s successful penalty from 40 metres won the game for Biarritz, 21-19. That after Bayonne replacement Thibault Lacroix’s brilliantly crafted try seven minutes before time – and when the visitors had just 14 men on the pitch - appeared to have stolen the points.
The 80 minutes was peppered with the sort of mischief you tend to associate with Basque derbies. Bayonne’s former All Black Troy Flavell was yellow-carded for a high hit on former England international Ian Balshaw while the Ciel et Blanc’s tight-head prop Renaud Boyoud was similarly excluded for a coup de tete – that’s a headbutt to you and me.
But the incident which grabbed the greatest attention happened barely six minutes into the game. Having won the ball from their own lineout, just outside the Biarritz 22, the Bayonne scrum-half, Wales and British Lion Mike Phillips, darted through a gap in the defence and set up what one phase later appeared to be the first try. But as the Bayonne loose-head Aretz Iguiniz crashed over the try line, assistant referee Christophe Berdos was flagging from the touchline and alerting referee Fitzgibbon to three players brawling back at the scene of the lineout.
Biarritz captain Iamanol Harinordoquy was in the thick of it and grappling with the Bayonne combination of Boyoud and back-rower Jean-Jo Marmouyet. As the firsts flew a bespectacled, grey-haired gentleman in a brown jacket jogged on to the pitch from the main stand and started directing blows at Marmouyet in apparent support of the Biarritz icon.
By then, attention had shifted from the scene of the “try” to the fate of the fan who had been tackled, violently spun on to his back, and then pinned to the turf by Bayonne fly-half Benjamin Boyet.
As Mr Fitzgibbon sought the views of both assistants, the interloper was escorted off the pitch, firstly by Biarritz hooker Benoit August and then the club’s head of security who had dashed across from the opposite side of the ground.
The first sign that Harinordoquy and the fan knew one another became clear shortly after the referee had ruled out the try and awarded a penalty in favour of Biarritz because of Marmouyet’s foul play.
As tempers cooled down and the fan was about to be repatriated to the public enclosure, Harinordoquy walked across to him and offered a consoling hand and a few words. I have no idea what was said but it may have gone something like this: “Now come on, Dad, I’ve told you about this sort of thing before.”
A club spokesman confirmed this morning the fan was 68-year-old Lucien Harinordoquy, a fierce Basque patriot and passionate supporter of his son’s rugby career.
Boyet told French sports daily L'Equipe earlier today: "I tackled him because he was attacking one of my team mates. I put him to the ground and (Biarritz hooker) Benoit August told me to stop, because it was Imanol's father."
Bayonne president Michel Cacouault condemned the attack and says he plans to take action against the France loose forward's father.
"It is intolerable. The club will lodge a complaint against Mr Harinordoquy," he told the club's website www.abrugby.fr.
According to Biarritz spokesman Mr Harinordoquy spent the rest of the match under observation in the Biarritz club office.
ESPN rugby expert Martin Gillingham is the lead commentator for the broadcaster’s live coverage of the French rugby union championship, the Top 14. Visit espn.co.uk/tv for more information
Video courtesy of ESPN, which broadcasts Top 14 Rugby in the UK.