IT’S not every day that Bandon Rugby Club finds itself featuring on the sports pages of renowned French newspapers L’Equipe and Sud-Ouest, but then again it’s not every day that a junior club in West Cork appoints a Top 14 coach to their coaching set up.
But that’s exactly what’s unfolded after Munster Junior League Division 1 club Bandon revealed its major coup in signing the highly regarded Bordeaux Begles forwards coach Regis Sonnes.
The former Spanish international coach will begin his West Cork adventure in July for an initial two years, with the option of a third year.
Sonnes will take over as Bandon first team coach and oversees the development of all age grades within the club, while also working with Bandon Grammar School, after the club and the local school have combined forces in this exciting joint venture to fund a full-time coach who can help both set-ups.
‘We had been looking at the development of the rugby-playing side of the club for the past few years to see how we can take it on to the next level,’ Bandon Rugby Club’s Dan Murphy explained.
‘We knew that Munster Rugby had approached Bandon Grammar with a view to them becoming an ‘A’ school, which is a fabulous achievement, and with us looking to change, we thought it would be a good idea to talk to the Grammar and see if we could find an arrangement that works for both of us.’
The appointment of Sonnes is certainly aimed at taking Bandon to the next level and the club believes it has struck gold with the Frenchman who has worked with Bordeaux for the past four seasons and who won three Top 14 titles with Toulouse in the mid 1990s. He was also on the Brive team that lost the 1998 Heineken Cup final.
Director of Rugby Conor Slattery used his contacts in the rugby world to lure Sonnes to West Cork, as Bordeaux Beagles captain Matthew Clerkin recommended the forwards coach, while Bernard Jackman also gave the move the thumbs up.
Jackman told Slattery: ‘He’s your man, he is the best forwards coach in the Top 14.’
Sonnes and his wife recently spent three days in West Cork where they met with Bandon club officials to discuss the role, and the local charm worked its magic with Sonnes accepting the job.
‘We are delighted to have a man of his quality on board,’ Dan Murphy said, adding that Sonnes, importantly, shares a similar philosophy to the club’s.
‘We are trying to make sure that every kid who comes into us goes out a better player at the end of each season, that they develop and that rugby would be part of a child’s education to make him or her a better person. Sport can help you mature in a different way and help you in different aspects of life.’
Bandon prides itself as being a progressive club and Sonnes’ appointment proves that, and after a successful first season back in Division 1 of the Munster Junior League, already there is great excitement locally ahead of the start of the 2016/17 campaign.
‘There is no doubt that bringing a Top 14 coach to a junior club is a tremendous draw for the club and makes Bandon a more attractive option,’ Murphy pointed out.
‘The hope is that he will leave us in a better place than where we are now. We were promoted to Division 1 last season having won Division 2. We went close to winning Division 1 last year. We were beaten by a better team in the Munster Junior Cup semi-final. It’s an ambitious panel that wants more, and Sonnes has the experience and know-how to help us improve and take us to the next level. These are exciting times.’
Murphy added: ‘This is also good news for West Cork rugby and it might open up different avenues for different clubs.’