We begin our profiles of EPCR Challenge Cup Pool B sides with a look at Aviron Bayonnais, who return to the competition after a two-year absence.

EPCR Challenge Cup record

Bayonne have reached the knockout stage only once – in 2005/06, their second season in the competition, when they bowed out in the quarter-finals after a 48-5 drubbing at eventual finalists London Irish. Since then, they have exited at the pool stage 12 times.

Last season

Bayonne were in France’s Pro D2 so were ineligible for the EPCR Challenge Cup, but they secured a return by winning the title earlier this year.

Head coach

Grégory Patat became Bayonne’s head coach this season following Yannick Bru’s departure for Cell C Sharks. It is his first such role in the TOP 14, although he was head coach at Pro D2 outfit FC Auch from 2009 to 2014 after a 13-year playing career with them.

The 47-year-old then had a season with USAP as forwards coach in Pro D2 before moving to a similar role at Stade Rochelais, where he spent three campaigns.

Key players

Bayonne have recruited three star names in a bid to ensure they stay in the TOP 14 after their recent yo-yo existence – experienced France half-backs Maxime Machenaud and Camille Lopez, plus Argentinian international hooker Facunda Bosch.

Scrum-half Machenaud has amassed 261 points in 61 EPCR appearances, largely for Racing 92, while fly-half Lopez has accumulated 198 in 55, principally for ASM Clermont Auvergne. As for Bosch, he won the Heineken Champions Cup with Stade Rochelais last season.

They will supplement a largely homespun squad which also contains internationals from Namibia, Uruguay, Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Spain and Fiji.

Bayonne’s biggest names prior to their summer recruitment were French international back Yann David and South African back-row forward Uzair Cassiem.

Pool fixtures

Bayonne will open their schedule at home to Benetton Rugby on December 17 at Stade Jean Dauger and finish it against the Italian club on January 14 at Stadio Comunale di Monigo