A Peak Behind the Scenes with Howie Kahn

Compiled by the Ikey Tiger Supporters CommitteeHowie _ Nic Groom

With all the action on the field, it is difficult to find time to catch up with the special men and women behind the scenes at UCT Rugby Club. Without the hard work of the Club’s volunteers, the Ikey Tigers wouldn’t exist, and we are eternally grateful for the time that they give up to make all of this possible.

In our first ‘Peak Behind the Scenes’ Interview Series, we talk to Ikeys and WP rugby legend – Howie Kahn, a committee member of the Ikey Tigers Supporters Club. We ask Howie about life at WP, his current role at adidas, married life, his take on SA sport, his special connection with the Ikey Tigers, his days at Wynberg, and his thoughts on the recent selection of the British and Irish Lions touring squad to New Zealand.

Howie, you were the Communications Manager for WP Rugby for some years…

Q: What was it like working for WP Rugby?

A: I worked at WP Rugby for four years and I loved it every minute of it. It was hard work but very, very rewarding and I consider it an honour to have been at the coalface for the world’s best rugby union. I would like to think that, in my own way, I left a small mark there and I will always look back at my time there with fond memories.

Q: Any funny stories? What were your highlights?

A: The undoubted highlights for me were working with some brilliant players and coaches. I watched them deal with many highs and lows that came their way, on and off the field, all the while knowing just how much they had put into it and how much they wanted to succeed. Funny stories… phew… I seriously have way too many… most of which are not printable 🙂

 Okay, so you are with adidas!

Q: What is your current role there?

A: I am the head of sports marketing for adidas SA – quite a varied role but it’s a superb organisation with some exceptional people… a great working environment and, of course, adidas is a truly quality global sporting brand and I consider myself very fortunate to have joined the team here.  Howie WP

Q: Do you miss the rugby focus, or is it refreshing to delve into other sports?

A: I still work in rugby and still get to deal with Western Province, so I get my ‘fix’. It’s definitely been refreshing to move away from a rugby-focused environment and it’s opened my eyes to see how big the world of sport really is.

Alright, so enough about work. You are recently married – congratulations!

Q: Do you watch rugby together?

A: Thanks, yes, we got married last June and, no, we do not watch rugby together… ever! I am very lucky, however, to have married such a patient and loving wife (and, yes, I do hope she reads this!) as Saturdays are still my dedicated rugby watching days.

Q: Nice! So, we have to ask – any dating advice for current players?

A: NO! I got married at 37… so clearly I am the one who needed the advice when I was younger!

Forever modest! Okay, so we have a picture of you here (above) with two incredible athletes…

Q: Do you think SA punches above its weight in terms of producing world class sportsmen and women or should we have more?

A: Yes and no. In many ways we do… and in many ways not. Where are the tennis players, for instance? And how many rugby players are plying their trade abroad and excelling? One thing is for sure – Wayde and Akani have put sprinting back on the map in SA and that is exciting. Shane Warne made spin bowling cool again in the early 1990s… these two kids are making it fun to be fast and it’s great to see youngsters out there striving to be like them and make good honest careers out of it in the process.

Q: Absolutely. So the big question, will we see more world records being broken by these blokes?

A: Yes – absolutely. First things first; Wayde and Akani are superb athletes, but even better human beings. They’re humble but also so hungry to keep achieving even more and to fly their nation’s flag along the way. Secondly, Wayde is just 24 and Akani is just 23 – Akani came fifth at the Rio Olympics but the likes of Bolt (first) and Gatlin (second) are in their 30s. Time is on their side!

An exciting time for SA athletics indeed! So, delving into Ikeys Rugby, you are a member of the Ikey Tiger Supporters Club Committee…

Q: When did your affiliation with UCT rugby start?

A: I have known John Dobson for quite some time (for my sins?), dating back to the mid-1990s, and he always used to drag me down to the Green Mile with the promise of free beer. I got seriously involved in 2008 with the start of the Varsity Cup and I am very grateful for that – I got to work closely with the likes of Dobbo, Fleckie, Paul Day, Gavin Sheldon, Neil McDonald, John le Roux and Phil Kilroe, and that 2008 Howie Quizteam epitomised what UCT Rugby is all about; they were fearless and punched above their weight with an exciting brand of rugby and ended up being centimetres away from lifting the cup in the first year.

Looking back at that team the likes of Dylan Rogers, Don Armand, Marty Muller, JJ Gagiano, Kyle Brown, Stu Commins, Timmy Whitehead, Matt Rosslee, Pieter Engelbrecht and Mat Turner all went on to play some bigger rugby, but don’t forget the likes of Wes Chetty, Herbie Mayosi, Pete Haw and James Martin – brilliant club men who gave their all and earned degrees along the way.

Q: 2008 was a special year indeed. What are your thoughts on this year’s Varsity Cup performance?

A: This year was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding year and whilst a ‘played eight, won two, lost six’ record might not look too flash, as long as they can retain the core of this group moving into 2018 they will be better for it.

Q: Absolutely, so what is the Ikey Tiger Supporters Club?

A: It’s an elite fighting unit… oops, sorry… wrong club! It’s a group of guys trying to get our old mates back to the Green Mile with the lure of free beer and watching running rugby… It’s a tough job, that’s for sure, but it’s fun interacting with like-minded individuals who care about a club that has been good to all of us in some way.

Okay, so going back a few years now, we know you are a Wynberg old boy…

Q: What were your sporting interests at school?

A: Everything, but I was truly awful at every sport I attempted. I am a big believer in participation being key… hahahahaha… Cricket has always been my first love but it is safe to say that rugby has nudged ahead since then – probably thanks to the 1995 World Cup.

Q: That is a surprise! Do you still watch school boy rugby? Should we be excited for the future of SA rugby?

A: I do, for sure – I try get down to Wynberg, SACS, Rondebosch and Bishops as often as possible… but plenty of it is televised. Without trying to get myself into too much trouble, I sincerley believe that we need to place more of an emphasis on skill at schoolboy level. We have the talent, of that there is little doubt, but big can’t be the winner when you’re young – we need the youngsters running around each other, not over or through each other. At heart, I am an eternal optimist, but when you have talent like Curwin Bosch, Salmaan Moerat, Damian Willemse and Wandisile Simelane coming through the school system in the last two years, it is hard to not get excited.

Absolutely. So another hot topic at the moment in the world of rugby, the Lions Squad for the Tour of New Zealand was announced this week…

Q: What do you think to the squad? Is this the strongest squad we have seen for a long time?

A: It’s a damn good squad but it must have been a nightmare selecting it! Lock and loose forward, for instance – no Gray brothers, no Launchbury, no Barclay or Watson from Scotland – but can you fault the players selected ahead of them? Hartley is the third England captain in a row to miss a Lions tour – joining Borthwick (2009) and Robshaw (2013) – and there’s just two Scottish players after their inspired Six Nations campaign… oh to have been a fly on the wall of that final selection meeting?! (For the record – imagine the bragging rights at UCT had Huw Jones not suffered his season-ending hamstring injury!?)

Q: That would’ve been special indeed! As for the captaincy, was Warburton the right choice?

A: Yes – absolutely… but I do find it amazing how much focus is placed on the appointment of a national team captain. A few months ago, Warburton was relieved of the Wales captaincy, yet now he will captain the Lions for the second time in his career – something only Martin Johnson has achieved in the history of the Lions.

Q: Do you think this team have what it takes to beat the All Blacks?

A: The All Blacks don’t often lose at home and I can see this series going down to the third Test… but I am tipping the ABs to take it – just – game-breakers like Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Ben Smith will be the difference.

Alrighty, so we have to talk about the Stormers. They are doing well in this year’s Super Rugby competition under Robbie Fleck…

Q: How far do you think they can go this season?

A: I have been very impressed with Fleckie since he took over last year. He is not scared to listen to those around him and his selections have been good. This year is still a season of learning for them, but they will be serious contenders come 2018 – the positive signs and squad depth are there. As far as I know, only Oli Kebble and Huw Jones won’t be in the mix next year, so continuity and the experience earned in 2017 will be a massive factor come next season.

Q: What about Ikeys in the Stormers Squad. Is the style of Ikey rugby synonymous with that of WP/Stormers?

A: I often think back to 2008, the first Varsity Cup… seeing the likes of Tim Whitehead go from a skinny student into a very, very good professional rugby player for WP, the Stormers and the Sharks; and Don Armand, who arrived at UCT as a prop and drove to the HPC every day in his rusty old Opel for nothing but petrol money, and is now a highly regarded flanker in the English Premiership. Guys like Nick Fenton-Wells, Nic Groom, Demetri Catrakilis… I could go on – all very good and positive (heads-up) rugby players, yes, but even better human beings. These guys all forced their way into the WP set-up by playing for UCT and that opened many people’s eyes.

Yes, I think between Fleckie and Dobbo there is definitely a UCT ‘vibe’ to WP and the Stormers at present. But when it comes to style of play, you still need to be pragmatic at the highest level and the players and coaches will know that. I do believe that too much fuss gets made about the style of rugby and being expansive and playing the New Zealand way. Yes, it’s an often-told story, but the All Blacks kick more than the Springboks do. A lot more. The key, of course, is accuracy. When you kick on your terms or run on your terms – that’s when, suddenly, this so-called ‘style’ looks amazing…

Looking at the Stormers and the Lions, yes SA teams can play a more open game but those teams are still very physical and they rely on dominance up front first for the rest to fall into place.