There was a big coaching appointment in Munster rugby recently with the news that Johan Erasmus will take up the Director of Rugby position with the province but an equally impressive bit of business has been done at amateur level far away from the limelight.
Bandon RFC, the local rugby club in a town of about 6,500 people, has hired highly regarded Top 14 forwards coach Regis Sonnes to coach the first team and oversee the overall development of all age grades from next season.
Amazingly, Sonnes will go from coaching a star-studded line-up at Bordeaux Begles, who are in the hunt for a Top 14 playoff spot, to working with amateur players in West Cork.
The surprise move was made possible because the rugby club decided to partner with Bandon Grammar School to pool their resources together in order to afford a top class full-time coach who could service both teams.
Bandon Director of Rugby Conor Slattery toldhow he helped his local team land such a highly thought of coach.
“I’m an acquaintance of Matthew Clerkin, who is the Bordeaux Begles captain,” he says.
“We were looking for a coach and he said that Sonnes would be a great guy to get and was looking for overseas experience.
“We made contact with Bernard Jackman [Grenoble head coach] and told him we were thinking about Regis Sonnes and he said, ‘He’s your man, he is the best forwards coach in the Top 14’.”
After settling on Sonnes and making his pitch, the club took the Frenchman and his wife around West Cork to see the scenery and get a sense of the place. It seemed to do the trick because the former Toulouse back row accepted the position.
It didn’t go unnoticed in France either – an interview Sonnes gave about his departure was given a full-page spread in Sud-Ouest, one of the country’s most prominent newspapers.
Not only has Sonnes worked with Bordeaux for the last four seasons, he also coached the Spanish national side for two years between 2010 and 2012.
He enjoyed a decorated playing career under Guy Noves at Toulouse too, winning Top 14 titles in 1994 and 1995 – before taking a year out of rugby where he spent most of his time surfing before returning to win yet another French championship with the club.
He then moved to Brive, where he was on the losing side in the 1998 Heineken Cup final.
With a rugby CV like that, it is hard to fathom how he has ended up joining a junior club from the professional game, but Slattery explains the attraction.
“He is certainly not coming for the salary, a combination of working full-time with a club and a school, moving his family to a new culture together with the attractiveness of West Cork sold the job to him and his wife.”
Bandon is a team on the up, having made the semi-final of the Munster Junior Cup this year while also finishing runner up in the Junior Division 1 league, having been promoted last season. They might not be able to compete with the wealth of Bordeaux Begles, but the strong club atmosphere and lifestyle in West Cork were enough to persuade one of France’s best coaches to leave professional rugby behind and embark on a new challenge.