Settling In Nicely
12th September 2012 By jess
Sit too close to Munster’s Backs coach for just a moment and you run the very real risk of being electrocuted, such is the current of rugby enthusiasm that courses through his veins.
And watching Simon Mannix breeze about the place like the Duracell Bunny gives new meaning to the word 'daunting' at the thought of an interview. As it transpires, it's an enjoyable, relaxed exercise conducted with a man who answers in a considered pronounced manner.
And if he looks a little bemused when asked what he knew of Munster before his arrival there's only the slightest twinkle of mischievous eyes before he responds "Well, like everyone who's followed European Rugby or even if you haven't followed rugby, you know something about Munster.
"And that something probably boils down to one word – Passion.
"Passion on the field and the passion off the field. I certainly knew it a bit more intimately having been in Europe now for 16 years so followed it very closely. Seen the highs and lows of their Heineken Cup performances.
"I say that, but I knew it before then. I mean I still have memories as a seven year old watching the game the All Blacks lost. So it's a name that's certainly stuck in my rugby background. That performance has been synonymous with me and Irish. Y'know, just the passion and the pride and all those words you want to throw at it.
"So soon as I heard the word there was the possibility of working with Munster straight away you know you're into something pretty serious.""
Capped by the All Blacks in 1994, he was out-half on the Gloucester side beaten 19-15 by Leicester Tigers in the 2001 Heineken Cup semi-final on the same day that Munster were beaten 16-15 by Stade Francais in Lille and admits that knowing who his boss in Munster was going to be, influenced him.
"We played in the same town (Treviso) in Italy back in the early 90s. We played against each other through that period, before Rob retired and I left New Zealand.
"So knowing Rob and his background, not personally but his coaching career. He coming through the Canterbury set-up, a system that he was one of the major instigators into making it what it is today. Probably the model for everybody in world rugby.
"That without a doubt had a huge bearing on my decision to come here. My first discussions with him just confirmed that here was a guy who knows his subject extremely, extremely well.
"The positive vibe that he exudes is something that immediately struck a chord with me. And it doesn't surprise me that even though it's early days, the players have re-acted as enthusiastically as they have to his vision. What he and we as a staff are trying to put in place.
"It's exciting times, although maybe transitional, but exciting nonetheless.""
Whatever about perceptions you have to wonder, even at this early stage, if all is as he expected? "
""No, it's not at all what I expected"", he says in a dead-pan straight and measured drawl that has you scrabbling frantically for the stop button on the dictaphone while looking out for the taxi you think he's ordered for the airport.
""It's, ehm, it's probably a thousand times more."
"The attitude of the players. The intensity. Their work-ethic. Their discipline. Just everything about the players. "They're… an absolute example to anybody."
Warming to the subject, he continues ""Now it's our job as coaches to help their learning. Help their growth as players.
"But in terms of attitude and things, I didn't think guys like this existed because I've just found them quite incredible in their attitude towards their work. Their attitude towards their province and towards their mates that they're playing with.
"It's a pretty special group. Munster is obviously something very special.
"So really (I'm) very very happy and very lucky and fortunate to be part of it. Hopefully we from the outside coming in, can bring something to the table. Can help add to the already illustrious history of Munster.""
And what is that something? ""Any coach's philosophy has got to be to improve the people he's responsible for. And if I can and Rob can, see that improvement, both individually and collectively then we're going to be pretty happy.
"And that's what it's about. We're not about trying to re-invent the wheel here.
"Rugby still is a very simple game. So we're just trying not to complicate things too much. We know that if we work hard enough, if we're intelligent enough in what we are doing and we help in the understanding and the learning for the players, then we'll get the growth that we're looking for.
"And if we get that growth, individually and collectively, then the team performance will follow.
"For us the challenge is there as a coaching group, Rob, me, Axel, Paul Mac and Cossie (Ian Costello). We want the guys to, not so much come round to our way of thinking but, just give them an another insight, maybe another approach to rugby they may not have been exposed to before.
"But in saying that, the guys here have been exposed to a lot of great coaches down the years so we'll just come and add what we can.
"These things do take time and we're conscious of that too. But yeh, I'd have to say I'm very happy with what I have to work with at both player and management level.""
And that's that. After a firm handshake, he's off again. Will O The Wisp-like. Towards a waiting player, another who's anxious to hear what Simon says.