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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Thursday, January 14th 2021

Omar Mouneimne: Case for the defence

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who speaks more passionately about rugby union defence than Omar Mouneimne.

The South African arrived at the Bears as Defence and Collision Coach in the summer of 2020, making the switch from Gallagher Premiership rivals Worcester Warriors – and to good effect, as last weekend’s bruising victory at Sandy Park so impressively demonstrated.

In his mind, it’s a win topped only by October’s Challenge Cup final, which saw the Bears withstand a 10-minute second-half siege on their own line to lift the club’s first major European silverware.

The well-travelled Mouneimne, who lists spells with the Sharks, the Stormers, Italy, Stade Francais, Lyon and Edinburgh on his CV, is thriving in the Bears environment under the leadership of Director of Rugby, Pat Lam and keen to build on the success of 2020.

'It's been fantastic'

“I’m absolutely loving it at the Bears,” he said. “It’s a fantastic environment, not only are the facilities world class, but being involved with Pat and his approach to ball-in-hand rugby, being fearless and having this approach where we want to play an exciting brand of rugby and we’re not scared to take guys on, it’s been fantastic.

“Especially coming from a South African kicking game and defence perspective, it’s been great to have that exposure of how you get that team on a page to play this exciting rugby and be fearless.

"We've also got a great bunch of players here - they are really studious, really focused and have a great work ethic. They really are a pleasure to work with.

“The highlight, obviously, was winning the Challenge Cup and that journey, beating Bordeaux and Toulon along the way. It was a fantastic effort to get us there, and then also reaching a Premiership semi-final, although it didn’t go our way. Those are the two massive highlights.

“I was very proud of the defensive effort against Exeter. Of course, though, that can’t be a one-off thing – I think consistency and being able to deliver that week-on-week is key. But as always, there are still things we can definitely improve on.

“But the key features of the performance, for me, were managing their big ball carriers and their shape. So, I was proud of the boys for recognising the shape in real-time and managing the gain line, where they didn’t get run over and we dominated that gain line, battered and stuck to the plan.”

Mouneimne’s belief that ‘defence is the yardstick by which attack measures itself and evolves’ drives his whole coaching philosophy and that, combined with a rich background in mixed martial arts, completes a defence coach focused on ‘PIE’.

He explains: “P is for physical – are we functionally conditioned for collisions, how is our tackle technique on single hits, double hits, our defensive breakdown, ability to jackal, counter ruck and so on.

“I is for intellectual, so all of the system-based stuff. Set-piece defence rules, general defence rules, how we face all of the default shapes, how we handle turnover attack, counterattack and so on.

“E is for emotional. We spend a lot of time one-on-one with players, aligning their goals and the reason they play with the Bears goals and making sure they are always defending with purpose and with focus.

“If we are not coming up with new ways to stress the attack, cut off options, read plays in real time and take risks on defence, then we’re not going anywhere. In the same way that the attack looks for opportunities in defence and chinks in the armour.

Clarity is key

“I like to look at defence as a case of ‘how do we attack and how can we take away all of these options that they have and stop them from playing the type of game they want to play, where is the weakness and what is the risk.

“The key thing is, can we make the attack measure themselves against us and worry about how they have to evolve to beat us.

“My key defensive principles are that I believe that rugby is a gain line war, but you need to provide certainty to be able to provide intensity with players. So, a lot of details around systems and system clarity.”

The MMA themes that feature within Mouneimne’s coaching derive from his knowledge and history in the sport but are inspired by some negative experiences at school.

“The way that my martial arts background affected my rugby was that I played rugby from a very young age, like you do in South Africa at five-years-old, but I also did martial arts from five-years-old.

“As I got older, unfortunately I was bullied a few times as some people thought my name was a bit strange – in South Africa, ‘Omar’ means a lot of things, it can mean Grandma, it’s a type of biscuit, a type of washing powder, so I was always being harassed about my name, so my martial arts gave me the ability to defend myself.

“But also, I started to find that my wrestling, my grappling and just being fit for combat gave me an edge, even in my club and school rugby teams - at the breakdown, in the collisions, I just felt durable, like I wanted to go again, and I developed a hybrid that I think works for rugby.”

It’s certainly working for the Bears, who sit top of the Gallagher Premiership table after six rounds. But Mouneimne knows, in a long and gruelling season, there are plenty of physical encounters still to come - it’s his job to ensure they are ready for them.


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