EDINBURGH RUGBY can take inspiration from the successful British and Irish Lions when a fresh era is launched tomorrow with a RaboDirect PRO12 visit to Munster.
That’s the view of new defence/collision coach Omar Mouneimne as he set out his stall in an exclusive interview with the Evening News ahead of the daunting trip to Musgrave Park, Cork.
Mouneimne has followed coaching import Alan Solomons from South Africa convinced that he can take the same approach that saw previous team Southern Kings enjoy the most dominant hits and turn-overs in Super Rugby even if ‘highest tackle completion’ suggested the team spent a lot of time on the back foot.
While the latter stat might prompt some concern it is, however, offset by recalling that Mouneimne’s expertise with Italy resulted in the Azzurri reducing their average points concession per game from 38.9 to 20 with their tries against shrinking from 3.9 to 2.1
Lest anybody think, too, that Mouneimne, whose family originally hailed from Lebanon but who grew up entirely in southern Africa, is governed by an anorak-like love of stats the overwhelming impression given by a squat, tanned individual is passion for his subject.
Mouneimne tells how his “complete belief” in head coach Solomons’ methods led him to uproot and how his background in martial arts – “amateur wrestling, Brazilian ju jitsu, karate, kick boxing I’ve done them all” – provided a route into rugby, a sport he played from age 6 to 28.
“My dad wasn’t particularly sports orientated otherwise he’d have tried to stop my splitting my time between martial arts and rugby and concentrate on one,” said Omar, adding: “As it happened I was training for martial arts in 2006 when the guy who was conditioning coach for South Africa’s sevens team told me they were struggling by being dominated physically.
“He said ‘come along and show us your stuff’ because functional submission lessons help guys put more pound for pound into their own body weight. I’d already played rugby so I knew how to tackle, but I combined it and I still think rugby can go up a level yet in terms of physicality.”
In relation to Edinburgh Omar believes great emphasis, starting tomorrow, will have to be placed on tightening up and giving nothing away before opening out – just as the Lions did when claiming their series win over the Wallabies.
“We will look to force the opposition to give us something and then to capitalise on those turn-overs. Australia played loosy-goosy in their own territory and the Lions realised they had to go back to strong basics and pick off their mistakes.
“When they did they were physically so strong that Australia could not live with them. That can be the model for Edinburgh, very much so.”
There are easier starts than Munster, where Edinburgh have only won twice since 2004 – especially with a new regime still finding its way but Omar said: “We didn’t have a pre-season with some collision and work rate basics I’d like to have implemented. But, hopefully, we can systematically lower the error rate against a very very tough team.
“If we talk about winning or losing we tend to compromise self esteem so what we do is say procedurally every week do we get better? If the answer is yes the self esteem will grow and process will get better.
“We don’t want to say if we lose this game we don’t get better – there’s no place to go from there. There are some superstars at Munster, though and they have a tradition of excellence. They have been at the top of thereabouts for a very long time. It will be a brutal game for us but we are going to tighten up the kicking game and territory game and not play willy nilly in our own half.
“We’ll want to make sure the possession used is quality in the right parts of the field to put opponents under pressure then take tries or three points away from their half.
“Munster? Wow, what a tough side, unbelievably well conditioned and organised. It is going to be a big assignment.
“But while preparations have been mostly about us we have watched Munster very carefully, their kick-off, kick receipts, default attack, strike moves and how they like to play pretty direct initially then they open up the game.
“I wouldn’t have left behind my family in the short term though if I didn’t believe Scottish rugby has the capability to be back in the world’s top five and that Alan Solomons could take Edinburgh forward.
“Alan’s unbelievably good. He loves his squad, lives and breathes rugby. And he understands a lot about coaching and admin where it’s unusual to be strong in both.
“We are both workaholics with attention to detail – that’s the chemistry we have!”