Departing French coach tells KIERAN McCARTHY that he hopes club will continue attacking style next season
REGIS Sonnes is possibly the first West Cork Sports Star monthly award winner to ask for the box that the award comes in.
But he has a good reason – he wants to take the award home to France with him.
At the end of next month, Sonnes’ two-year Bandon adventure will come to an end when he begins the next chapter in his life: he is the new joint head coach with Top 14 giants Toulouse.
It’s a job that he couldn’t say no to, and while he leaves Bandon RFC with a heavy heart, he also leaves the club in a better position than when he arrived.
Sonnes was honoured with the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Award for March in recognition of the coaching role that he played in guiding Bandon to Munster Junior League Division 1 success.
It was Bandon’s first Division 1 title since 1992/93 and follows on from their Munster Junior Cup success last season, with Sonnes’ influence there for all to see.
In the title run-in, Bandon knew that four bonus point wins in a row would guarantee them the league, and that’s exactly what they achieved, clinching the title at home to Newcastlewest with a 41-24 win.
In those final few games, Bandon’s expansive rugby style caught the eye – and brought a smile to the face of coach Sonnes.
He likes to win by playing ‘positive rugby’. He achieved that and is encouraging the club to continue that philosophy even when he has left these shores.
‘I hope we have created a style of rugby in Bandon and I hope they will keep it,’ Sonnes says.
‘We won the league because we played good, open rugby.
‘When we needed bonus-point wins to win the league, we achieved it.
‘We have shown to everyone that you can win by playing good rugby and we enjoyed that.
‘I think the quality of the league has improved too. When I came it was Clonmel, Clonmel, Clonmel, but now we have a very competitive league with Richmond, St Senan’s, Kilfeacle, Clonmel, so it’s a very interesting league.’
Sonnes and the Bandon juniors went on to compete in the All-Ireland League round-robin series and won their way through to the play-off against Bruff – the winner would compete in the senior ranks next season.
That’s where the dream ended for Bandon as Bruff came out on top with a 79th minute try and a 24-17 win, so the West Cork team will compete in the junior ranks again next season.
That’s not necessarily bad news either, according to Sonnes.
‘Perhaps it’s better for the club to stay one year more at junior, two years more, to build the team,’ he points out.
‘The future for Bandon is very positive because the club trains well and has the right rugby attitude.
‘I am very confident for the future because the U18 team won the All-Ireland, they are a very good team so with some players coming from there, the next step for the club is to play senior.’
Sonnes also backs Bandon to defend their Division 1 title next season, even though he feels it will be more difficult given the home and away nature of the league.
Whatever happens, he will keep one eye on Bandon’s progress at all levels even though he’ll be knee deep in the Top 14 and Champions Cup with Toulouse. And he feels his two years in Bandon, working with the club and Bandon Grammar School, have made him a better coach.
Toulouse will reap the benefits of an improved and more relaxed Sonnes, who loved the country life in West Cork, having come from a farming background himself in France.
‘Next season will be the same for me – my attitude, my face, my walk. I will train humans. And I will train rugby. My style of management will be the same,’ Sonnes explains.
‘I have learned a lot in Bandon about how to manage a team and a club. It was very difficult because we had just two trainings in the week so I had to choose my priorities. With Toulouse it will be more or less the same work but with more TV, more newspaper and more focus on it. It will be easier on the pitch because I will have ten training sessions in a week.
‘With Bandon I learned a lot about to how prioritise in training, to build a good team.
‘Perhaps I will be more relaxed next season.’
His Bandon rugby experience has ticked all the boxes. He had managed the Spanish national team before and was a forwards coach with Bordeaux – but he feels there’s something special about Bandon and West Cork.
The culture. The people. The rugby project. The bacon. The quality of life. The Guinness. The experience.
He came to these shores to learn and he leaves, he says, a better man.
And he will be back here again, whether on a holiday or if Toulouse draw Munster in Europe.
‘I know I have some close friends here. This is my country for me. I am a West Cork man. This is the most important for me, to have the people,’ he explains.
But before he finishes up with Bandon rugby, Sonnes has organised a tour to Bordeaux for the club’s junior team and the Grammar School’s senior side in early June – the juniors are there for the weekend, the school side from Monday to the Saturday, both teams playing games.
His influence will be felt in the club even after he leaves, and now he has a West Cork Sports Star award to put on display in his new office in Toulouse as a reminder of two fantastic years in Bandon.