Retro – 60 years ago, Béziers was crowned European champion, a novelty for a French club

On June 24, 1962, Béziers became the first French club to win a European title. 60 years later, return to this unique coronation, obtained after an incredible trip to Romania.

It’s a trophy we would almost have forgotten. One of those dark glasses of the last century, which only remain in the memory of those who lived them, or who knew how to talk about them through family heritage. Just 60 years ago, the first European club competition in the history of rugby took place, called the FIRA Champions Clubs’ European Cup. A federation created by France to try to exist outside the influence of the Anglo-Saxons, FIRA then tried to develop rugby in neighboring nations.

Here, therefore, there are no English or Irish teams. It was too early for that. The format faced teams rather than what we might call “minor” nations of European rugby (Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, etc.), the best of these formations facing the French champions of the previous season in the final. And although today we are outraged by the arrival of South Africa in the Champions Cup, we note that even a Moroccan team (!), ASPTT Rabat, was invited at the time.

Romania then had a real importance in rugby.

Finally, with the French national teams, only Romanian clubs could act as scarecrows. With their group of fierce strikers, the national team was much tougher than it is today. ” Romania then had a real importance in rugby. France’s national team matches against the national team were also very close “says David Wozniak, a sports historian. By 1960, François Moncla’s blues had even succumbed to the Romanian capital.

Suffice it to say that by fighting Grivita Rosie Bucharest in the European Cup final on Sunday 24 June 1962, the case was far from over. Then, the club is made up of a large part of the backbone of the selection. In total, eight internationals fill the ranks of this rival as tough as it is unknown.

For his part, Béziers is not left out either. The club has just played a magnificent final of the French championship – by the way, lost – against Agen, a year after its national title. Trained by the same pedagogue Raymond Barthès, Biterrois’ game then laid the foundations for what would be the team’s success, during the prolific years of Raoul Barrière’s “Grand Béziers”. Barthès changes the face of this XV, making a new heavyweight in French rugby, undermining his opponents with off-axis scrum shots, small foot games and contact turns, then amusingly innovative.

The preparation of truncated biterroise

In his dissertation on the history of the ASBH, David Wozniak also quotes Pierre Danos, captain of the European coronation: “ Raymond Barthès is a supporter of movement rugby. Let’s be clear, movement rugby doesn’t mean rugby from the back lines; we believe that, being the possessors of the ball, it is up to us to circulate it: either in front or behind, to provoke the hole, the excess of attackers, or to group the maximum of defenders in a certain point. from the field, then alert our back lines. »

But movement is nothing without form. However, the biterrois do not reach the best of their physical and mental possibilities in Bucharest, place of the final. After letting the Brennus escape in late May, they were crushed by Lourdes in the final of the Béguère Challenge, just a week before the European deadline. It’s not terrible, then. Finally, the journey to the Romanian trap is not easy.

After lunch at a restaurant located between Béziers and Narbonne, a few days before the match, the players suffered terrible food poisoning. The preparation is altered. Raoul Barrière himself will take time to recover, having to give up the final. Once there, the trap becomes clearer. Rare fact, the game is played first thing in the morning.

The Romanian trap …

Then the mercury shows 40 degrees. The heat is stifling, the playing conditions are tough. In short, a real old-fashioned trap. Especially because the game of the Romanian team does not really make great flights. It is a melee, minimalist and bewildering battle that awaits the Héraultis in the East.

Despite this, in the small game of war of attrition imposed by the terrible Romanians, the ASBH is the strongest. Following his hooker Émile Bolzan, and his second-line jumper Jean Salas, who is said to have played a formidable match, Béziers scares Bucharest in front of nearly 20,000 spectators gathered at the Dinamo stadium. With their half scrum Danos at the helm, the Biterrois dominated a tight game (6-3). The real difference is only made in the last ten minutes, thanks to a test of the very lively Spagnolo, thrown in the closed by Gensane and Danos (11-3), confirming the seat of the strikers.

A trophy lost during the move

According to coach Barthès, the Herault striker had almost reached perfection that day. ” It would take a super team to deprive Béziers of their success in the European Cup final “he wrote Olympic at noon the day after the triumph of the Hérault. Thus, Béziers became the first European champion club in history, in a competition now forgotten.

The European Champions Cup FIRA, the first European title of a French club: Béziers.
Photo ASBH

For historian David Wozniak, this feat was frowned upon. First for its date, June 24, 1962, which made it not covered by many journalists. And also because this event was completely new. »

However, the performance, certainly not to the extent of the current Champions Cup coronations, should not be underestimated. During the next three editions, the big names in French rugby such as Grenoble, Mont-de-Marsan and Agen were defeated in Romania by local clubs, decidedly very tough.

Enough to give a little more value to a title that has offered players a nice crystal cup. With the change of stage of the ASBH in 1989 (moving from Sauclières to Raoul-Barrière), the latter, however, disappeared completely from the Hérault trophy cabinet. As forgotten, in a way. For French rugby, it remains the symbol of a great first.

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