JJ Gagiano has done a lot in his relatively short playing careers thus far. He was the captain of Ikey’s in the inaugural Varsity Cup, he played in the Rugby World Cup for the USA Eagles and in the process scored a very memorable try against Australia! He now plays in Cape Town for Western Province after a very short stay with the Lions in 2012. It is quite telling that he has ended up back near his roots, the proud Bishops. It was here that he played alongside two other well-known and highly talented loose forwards, Francois Louw and Nick Koster. We had a chat with the Province forward just prior to his second game for Western Province and we share it now with you!
Jabu : Firstly thank you so much for doing this interview with us between your studies and playing for your new team! What was the experience like playing at the World Cup in 2011 for the USA Eagles Rugby team?
ATJ: What was it like scoring against Australia in the World Cup?
JJ: I am still pinching myself! haha Everyone has asked me what happened, to be honest I have no idea, I picked the ball up and next thing I know scored. I happened to be at the lucky end of a great team effort and all credit must go to them.
ATJ: How did the opportunity to play for the Eagles come about, as you are South African born player?
JJ: My mom is American so I have USA citizenship, The USA saw me play in the 2008 at Varsity Cup and asked if I would like to come over for a trial.
ATJ: Having previously played for the Southern Spears will we be seeing you turning out for them in next year’s Super Rugby season?
ATJ: Did coming from a strong rugby school like Bishops (Diocean College) help in your rugby development?
JJ: It certainly did, Bishops has such a proud rugby tradition, and the coaching is top notch, and they really allow and encourage you to express yourself.
ATJ: What was the experience of captaining UCT in the Varsity Cup like? Especially as you were their first captain in the tournament!
JJ: It was new to me, I captained at school, but to captain a team like UCT with its tradition was a great privilege and honour. I was very fortunate to have excellent coaches like John Dobson supporting me, and the guys really bought into the team ethos, so my job was very easy.
ATJ: What do you think the Varsity Cup will do for the development of young rugby talent?
JJ: I think it is a great idea, it certainly has helped me develop as a player and a person and there are dozens of players in the Currie Cup who have played Varsity Cup. A lot more emphasis needs to be placed on the academic side, as life after rugby can be very tough, and it’s great as it encourages you to study and prepare for life after rugby.
ATJ: What has been the difference in experience playing in Italy and playing in the local South African rugby system?
JJ: The standard of rugby in South Africa is much higher than that of Italy, but the overall experience with the language food and travel opportunity in Italy is one that I will never forget and learnt a great deal from.
ATJ: What are your aims for the rest of 2012 and moving forward?
ATJ: What has been your favourite stadium to play in?
JJ: There has been many but the top two would have to be Newlands and Wellington in New Zealand.
ATJ:Who has been the hardest loose forward you’ve played against?
JJ: There are so many top quality loose forwards out there, but the hardest would have to be Francois Louw.
ATJ: Bishops has produced a few excellent loose forwards of late with the likes of you, Francois Louw and Nick Koster. Have you guys ever played alongside each other?
JJ: I’ve been very fortunate myself and Francois played at school from std 3 to matric, the guy is a beast and so stoked that he is playing Boks again. I had the privilege of playing with Nick at University and he is super talented and a freakish athlete.
ATJ: Thanks so much and good luck for the remainder of the tournament!