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The Former Munster Player Who Played A Huge Role In Fiji's First Ever Olympic Medal

The Former Munster Player Who Played A Huge Role In Fiji's First Ever Olympic Medal
By Gavan Casey Updated

It's always mysteriously fascinating when a sporting figure disappears from public consciousness, only to resurface years later - usually half a world away - having achieved something magnificent in a different field.

Munster fans will remember Kiwi fly-half Jeremy Manning, who went on to make 50 appearances for the province following his arrival from New Zealand in 2005, scoring 173 points during his five-year career in Ireland.

What may have slipped their collective radar however is that the former Cork Con and UCC 10, still just 30 years old, played a key role in Fiji's historic gold medal in the rugby sevens at Rio this summer.

Currently a fitness instructor in Abu Dhabi, Manning returned to the UAE this week with a match ball from the Olympic final, a medal representing the second-highest honour in the nation of Fiji, and a life experience to boot.

But Manning wasn't involved in Rio; the AD Harlequins man had been asked by Fiji coach Ben Ryan to be the Pacific islanders' kicking coach two years prior to their date with destiny, and duly obliged, becoming one of the most popular figures within the entire national setup in the process.

Manning watched Fiji secure gold - their first ever Olympic medal - on television in the middle of the night at home in Abu Dhabi and, caught up in the emotion of the whole event, cheekily took to Twitter asking team sponsors Fiji Airlines to fly him to Rio for the celebrations.

Incredibly, they duly obliged, on the condition that Manning kept it a secret. Such is his popularity amongst the squad, Fiji Airlines wanted his arrival in Rio to be a surprise.

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"I was just trying to chance my arm," an elated Manning told The National.

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.

One of four Kiwi Munstermen to face down the Haka on that legendary Thomond night in 2008, Manning has been Fiji's specialist kicking coach for the past two seasons, which has seen them claim back-to-back Sevens World Series titles as well as this month's monumental Olympic gold.

So monumental was their Rio success, in fact, that Manning was granted the Order of Fiji award - the second highest-ranking personal award in the country, which is given to those who make a positive impact on the country or, quite beautifully, 'mankind'.

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Manning says he may now move into the coaching game in a professional capacity, but remains unsure as to his future with the Fiji sevens squad following Ben Ryan's departure for pastures anew.

Now back in the UAE after a week's worth of celebrations in Fiji, Manning says the time he spent with Fiji has been an "absolute joy":

This morning I downloaded all my videos and photos of my GoPro.

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.

He's come a long way from the fields of Temple Hill and the Mardyke.

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