French coach Régis Sonnes enjoying amateur rugby experience in Bandon
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
REGIS Sonnes believes he has found the ‘real spirit of rugby’ in Bandon.
The former Bordeaux Beagles forwards coach and Spanish international manager swapped the professional game last year to explore the amateur ranks – and it’s turning out to be the adventure he hoped it would be.
His journey to West Cork began when Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar School pooled their resources together and started the search for a full-time coach to work with both the club and the school.
Both were successful before Sonnes’ arrival, Bandon RFC finished second in the Munster Junior League (MJL) Division 1 last season and Bandon Grammar have made the transition to become an ‘A’ school, so they both thought outside the box in order to improve and grow.
This was ‘the project’ that appealed to Sonnes.
Conor Slattery, Bandon Director of Rugby, got in touch with Matthew Clerkin with Bordeaux where Sonnes was working. The end result saw Sonnes and his family (his wife, 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son) swap Bordeaux for Bandon.
‘I was four years in Madrid and four years in Bordeaux and they are big cities, so it’s good to be in Bandon now; it’s a radical change,’ said Sonnes, who works with the club and school.
‘Also, for me it’s the first time coaching young people, with the Grammar School, and I am more like a teacher than a trainer in a good way, to educate the player; I like this experience.
‘I like this real commitment in Bandon, it’s not for money or for a contract, they play here for the club, for the town, for their teammates, for their friends. For me, this is the real spirit of rugby, the community working together for the jersey, that is very important to me.’
When he heard of Bandon RFC’s and the Grammar School’s big plans, he admits it was an easy decision to sign a two-year contract, and he has the option of a third year.
‘I was looking for an opportunity like this,’ he said.
‘I wanted to stop working with a professional team, I was looking for an adventure with another club in another country, like Ireland.
‘For my family, it is also an adventure. Before Bordeaux we were in Spain for four years so now in Ireland, it’s another country, we can learn another language and another culture, and this is an opportunity to meet new people.’
As a player Sonnes won three Top 14 titles with Toulouse in 1994, ’95 and ’97, before moving on to Brieve and Agen, and later he stepped into coaching, with the forwards in Agen, then Narbonne before Spain came calling, first with Canoe Rugby Club Madrid and then the Spanish national team, and in 2012 he joined Bordeaux.
That experience garnered as a player and a coach is rubbing off on Bandon, explains team captain Tom Ferguson.
‘He brings a massive amount of knowledge from playing and coaching professionally,’ he said, ahead of this Sunday’s Junior Clubs Challenge Cup final against Kilfeacle.
‘It took a bit of getting used to at the start but we definitely see the benefits now. We are in a final this weekend, we are in a quarter-final of the Munster Junior Cup and we’re in the top four in the league so we’re well placed for a strong end to the season.’
Sonnes’ experience and coaching expertise have added another layer to what existed in Bandon RFC and the Grammar School, and club Vice-President Dan Murphy believes he has helped strengthened the club’s panel.
‘He has engendered into everyone that they have an opportunity to play rugby for Bandon where previously we were picking from a pool of 21, 22 players,’ Murphy said.
‘He has strengthened the squad in quality and numbers. We have between 28 and 31 players training every Wednesday and Friday night, which is tremendous for a junior club.
‘He has given players the belief that they can play junior 1 rugby.’
Bandon RFC are currently fighting at the top of MJL Division 1, defeated Galbally in the Munster Junior Cup last weekend and have the challenge cup final this Sunday in Charleville at 2pm, while Bandon Grammar are in the semi-final of the Munster Schools’ Senior Cup next Wednesday, so these are good times for Bandon rugby on all fronts.
‘It would be great to win a trophy for the players and the club on Sunday. Last year they had a very good year and I think if we win a cup this year it would be a boost to everyone,’ said Sonnes, who is enjoying learning the ropes in amateur rugby.
‘I have worked with the professional game and I know it but I wanted to learn about amateur rugby, to learn how to prepare a team with just two training sessions in a week and make sure I make the most important choices,’ he said.
‘I had to adapt to this and I am learning a lot.’
The move to Bandon and West Cork also allows Sonnes to re-energise; it’s then that he is as his best, as he explains.
‘I am 44 years old and I want to experience more,’ he said.
‘I was four years with Bordeaux in France and that was a lot for me. I wanted to change, to rest a little bit because we were under pressure eleven months of the year.
‘For me to be at my best level I need a lot of energy. After four years I lost a lot of energy so I need to rest and come back stronger.
‘I have a life philosophy to meet people all over the world and this is an opportunity to do that and keep growing.’
As Sonnes grows and learns, so does Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar School, and this French connection is working well for all involved.