THERE is no mistaking the fire and brimstone approach of Edinburgh’s assistant coach Omar Mouneimne on the training field, so it should come as little surprise that the South African is likening the team’s trip to the south of France this weekend as akin to going to war.
That is certainly the challenge he and head coach Alan Solomons have set the squad after they lifted spirits with an opening Heineken Cup win over Munster at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Winning at home was good for the squad confidence, and has helped to instil a belief that the players are on the right track.
But, for the victory to become part of something meaningful, Mouneimne insisted that they had to prove they could replicate it on the road. There are few more intimidating places to test that than the Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan.
Welcoming their last result, Mouneimne said: “It’s going to be a gain-line war and if you don’t pitch and make it a gain-line war then you’re going to be in trouble. You can’t talk about any systems, tactics. When you go up against a French team, at home, and one that just lost to Gloucester away, you know they’re going to come at you in front of their fans revved up 1000 percent. Physicality and combat is the first order of the day, no question.
“That [win over Munster] was testament to the fact that the guys have put in a lot of work that maybe the public probably can’t quite understand from the stands, in terms of green shoots of recovery and the progress being made. But if you put in the work and are training the right way, eventually you will turn a corner and I definitely feel that was a corner turned.
“It’s only one win, nothing to get over-excited about, but it proves to the guys that after a few weeks of hard work we can reach a better level.
“Perpignan is going to be a very big test because what you want to see now is whether they can execute a game-plan regardless of the surroundings. That’s the key. When you go to war you don’t go to war on your own home turf, literally.
“The mentality you’ve got to have is that the 15 guys, or the 23 guys, are a unit. It doesn’t matter where they are but the four lines surrounding them is enough, or it should be.
“That’s the test for us. Can we arrive at any ground, at any time, and pitch up and do what we’re supposed to do? That’s the challenge now and that’s what we are striving for.”
Mouneimne has been likened to the Duracell bunny, such is his non-stop, ever-bouncing approach to training. His mouth rarely stops either and is X-rated in the stands come game-time as he lets his views be known throughout the game.
One criticism of Edinburgh squads in recent years was that they were “too soft”, capable of nice rugby “on their day”, but lacking the hard edge to be consistently successful. While that never applied to all players, Mouneimne has been brought in to ensure that all become harder, more skilled and more ruthless.
He has been joined by another former colleague from the Italian set-up and Southern Kings, skills coach Philippe Doussy. The 42-year-old former scrum-half with French club sides Montauban and Perigueux, finished his career in Italy in 2001 and worked his way up the coaching ladder there, coaching at one stage with former Edinburgh chief Lynn Howells at Leonessa, before joining Alan Solomons at the Kings in January.
He has spent time studying kicking technique across France, Italy and South Africa, and even researched American football kicking at the San Diego Chargers, and took his first skills session yesterday. Solomons has taken him on full-time at least until the end of the year, replacing Duncan Hodge, who has been shared across the pro teams and age-grade squads.
His appointment is another example of Solomons’ attention to skill improvement, according to Mouneimne, and the new mens’ approach to turning around the Edinburgh set-up.
“Let’s put it this way,” he explained, with typical candour. “It’s been a case of burning the bush to the ground, seeing where the roots are left and then re-cultivating the roots. There were a lot of things that needed to be re-done and it won’t be this season where you see the fruits of that completely. We are still burning things.
“I work on defence and attack at the breakdown, and the kicking game, and I can tell you that we were porous in every department. That’s just speaking factually. The guys weren’t extremely systematic and specific to detail all the time, and what we found was that there were no repercussions to making mistakes.
“What I mean is that you analyse the training post-training and you identify mistakes and say ‘look, these mistakes are not going into the game’ and then follow up and make sure they don’t go into the game. That’s the negative side, but the positive is that we have a lot of good quality players here who have the potential, but who maybe haven’t been on the right page. They are good guys, just needing good food, rather than good guys eating bad food.”
Saturday’s victory was vital to helping the players believe in him, and the new coaching methods, as much as it encourages Edinburgh’s supporters, as he pointed to the expanding style of the game as an indication of Solomons’ big plan.
But he expects this weekend’s test to be far greater.
“Perpignan will bring fire to this game so we will have to step up 200 percent or we will be bullied,” he added. “One win against Munster is nothing, absolutely nothing. The key is whether we can be a consistently world-class team.”