Mar 05, 2015
A Foot in Both Camps - Raphael Ibanez
A highly respected and decorated French front rower, the signing of Raphael Ibanez from under the noses of Gloucester in the wake of the 2003 World Cup was seen as a major coup for Saracens heading into the 2003/4 season.
The French hooker’s reputation within the game is unquestionable. Prior to his move across the channel he won successive Grand Slams with France in 1997 and 1998 and led them to the World Cup Final in 1999.
Formerly of Dax (his hometown club of which Ibanez proudly represented before spells at Perpignan and Castres), he left France and to join countrymen Abdel Benazzi and Thomas Castaignede at Vicarage Road.
The move to Watford unfortunately didn’t work out. With then Saracens director of rugby Steve Diamond preferring hooker Matt Cairns (who Diamond brought back to Vicarage Road from Sale Sharks), to the Frenchman - meaning Ibanez only made 30 appearances for the club in a two year stint. With the imminent arrival of Ireland and Leinster hooker Shane Byrne in the summer of 2005, Ibanez and Saracens agreed to part ways, with the Frenchman moving to High Wycombe to link up with Wasps in the autumn of his playing career.
The combative Basque hooker began to show his undoubted pedigree during his time at Adams Park. Ibanez led Wasps to glory in the 2007 Heineken Cup final at Twickenham and made a shock return to the international fold when he was re-named French captain by Bernard Laporte. Ibanez went onto lead France in a home World Cup in 2007, where they finished fourth.
After the World Cup Ibanez continued to lead Wasps with distinction. He announced his immediate retirement from all rugby in 2009 following a series of concussions and then went on to forge a successful media career.
Most recently though, Ibanez once again has French rugby’s tongues-a-wagging after masterminding the transformation of Top14 side Bordeaux-Begles from perennial strugglers to Top Four contenders as Director of Rugby of the Top 14 merger outfit.