‘Super crazy’: Abu Dhabi-based Jeremy Manning returns from basking in Fiji glory
ABU DHABI // Jeremy Manning returned to the UAE this week with a match ball from the Rio Olympic sevens final, a medal signifying the second-highest honour in Fiji, and a suitcase full of memories besides.
The Abu Dhabi-based personal trainer spent the past week celebrating the Pacific island nation’s first ever Olympic medal, the gold they won in rugby sevens in Rio.
He was not part of the world champion sevens side’s tour party at the Games, but was their specialist kicking coach in the lead-up to it.
He watched them secure gold on television in the middle of the night at home in Abu Dhabi.
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In the aftermath, he made a tongue-in-cheek plea to the team’s sponsors, Fiji Airways, to fly him back to take part in the celebrations. They duly obliged — on the condition he kept the details to himself.
It resulted in Manning not only being flown there, but also be awarded the Order of Fiji, which is granted to people who make a significant “effect for Fiji or mankind as a whole”.
“I was just trying to chance my arm,” Manning said of the tweet which preceded his 14,000km trip.
“Some people said, ‘Social media is going crazy, why don’t you put something out there?’ I was a bit reluctant to do it, as it wasn’t really my domain.
“But then I thought, ‘You know what, there’s nothing to lose.’ They came back to me, said they’d love to get me back out there.
“The terms and conditions were that I would have to keep it quiet, not tell anybody, and not tell the team.”
Still only 30, Manning has enjoyed a storied life in rugby. He left New Zealand and played for Munster, one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
While at the Irish province, he was part of the match-day squad when they won the European Cup at a packed Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
On another occasion, he faced down an All Blacks’ Haka, and responded to the challenge.
He went on to play in the English Premiership, before falling out of love with the game, then moving to Abu Dhabi in 2012. He continued playing as an amateur in the domestic sphere upon moving to the UAE, and he still managed to find his way back to the top of the game, playing sevens at Twickenham for London Harlequins.
And for the past two seasons he has been part of the coaching staff during Fiji’s back-to-back Sevens World Series wins, followed by Olympic gold in Rio.
With Ben Ryan having stepped down as Fiji’s head coach, it is unclear whether Manning will still be part of their coaching set-up in the future.
Like Ryan, Manning’s reputation has been greatly enhanced by the success they have had, and he may be ready to move back into the professional game in a coaching capacity.
He says the time he spent with Fiji has been an “absolute joy”.
“This morning I downloaded all my videos and photos of my GoPro,” he said.
“Just looking at three or four of them, I’m just amazed by how many of them came out to support their nation’s team.
“It was not just a couple of thousand people. It was hundreds of thousands of people. Throughout the seven days of celebrations that we had, every day was different, every day was bigger and better, super crazy.
“But coming back here was sort of refreshing. Away from all the hustle and bustle of Fiji.
“It was an eye-opener, something I will probably never experience in my life again.”
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Updated: August 30, 2016 04:00 AM