With a stunning 30-19 win over Clermont Auvergne last weekend, and a trip to Paris for a clash with Racing Metro next on the agenda, life in the French Top 14 is looking good for former Edinburgh back rower Scott Newlands and his Oyonnax colleagues.
After defeat at Bayonne on the opening day, last week’s victory in front of a capacity crowd of more than 11,000 in the newly-extended Stade Charles Mathon was met with a combination of delight and relief.
For Newlands, being involved in the top flight is the realisation of an ambition. He faced the possibility of missing out on the experience after helping Oyonnax to last year’s second division title because of rules limiting the number of foreigners at any club. However, after two successful seasons at Oyonnax, the 28-year-old was willing to wait in order to achieve a career aim.
“The club knew I was desperate to stay. One of my goals was to get to the Top 14. It must be the best championship in Europe and I was willing to bide my time,” he said. That patience was rewarded by a one-year contract extension, with a further year option. Oyonnax has the lowest budget in the league, almost one quarter of high-rolling Toulouse and they expect a tougher season than the campaign which saw them storm to the ProD2 silverware. The objective will be survival, but coach Christophe Urios also expects his men to be competitive in the Amlin Cup, where the club from a town of around 24,000 in the Rhone-Alpes region will meet Worcester Warriors, Sale Sharks and Biarritz.
“All the guys want to win every game so they won’t be holding back,” insisted Newlands, “but the Top 14 is the bread and butter.”
His own challenge is to perform well enough to secure a regular place. Among his rivals for a back row slot is skipper Joe El Abd.“In ProD2, there was a fairly consistent team because every five weeks you had a week’s rest,” he added. “But with preparation games, we are going to have 14 in a row, so the squad will be changing week to week.”
However, battling for a starting berth is a price Newlands is happy to pay in return for a good work-life balance, stating, “I’m enjoying the rugby, and my wife and I love the French lifestyle.”