Josh Katzen is one of the many Ikey Tigers who have recently been called up to the senior Western Province team. He joined WP U21s last year, and moved on to captain the side this year.
After a relatively short stay with the U21 side, he got the call to move up, and debuted against the Griquas in the teams Currie Cup clash just three weeks ago. Uctrfc.co.za caught up with him to find out a little bit more about the move, and about his experience with rugby so far.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well for high school I went to Wynberg Boys, and from there came into Varsity studying a BA and majoring in English and History. When things didn’t work out academically, playing rugby was always a consistent presence in my life, always there. I enjoy it, I enjoy being with all the guys, but at the same time I wasn’t really being defined by it.
When did you start playing in the Varsity Cup?
This is my first year playing in the Varsity Cup. I joined WP U21 towards the end of last year, coming late into the side, for the last four or five games. Made the finals, and then lost in the finals. Thie year, I played for the Ikeys in the Varsity Cup first, then U21s again, and now with the seniors for the past two weeks.
When did you start playing rugby and is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
At first, I just played rugby because it was fun. My dad played rugby, so it was a sort of father/son thing. He played centre for the Universals. He didn’t go far but he was a good rugby player, and always told me stories about his experiences. I always looked up to him as an idol and I always wanted to be like him.
What is your first rugby-related memory?
For one, it was bare foot rugby. At break time playing red rover. It always starts with red rover, and then you get a ball in your hands and you start running.
How did it feel when you got the call up for Western Province last year?
It was exciting. I was having a drink with a couple of friends when I got the call. It was a dream come true. I cried my first day there.
How has playing for the U21s geared you for the transition to senior rugby?
You’re actually playing with the senior guys, you’re seeing them every day. Guys like Etzebeth, de Villiers, and now Schalk Burge. Seeing guys like Nic Groom, the guys who were at Varsity also makes it the transition much easier. Seeing their faces is lekker. Moving from Varsity rugby to the U21 team, personally I felt like that was a big difference because of the conditioning. I didn’t have a great Varsity Cup pre-season, but I had a nice U21 pre-season. Varsity Cup is good in the sense that you play older , heavier guys, so your body’s kind of used to the hits, but the conditioning for Varsity Cup and U21s or provincial teams is completely different. I think it was my mind set as well. I changed what I ate, when I slept, everything. You give up two months of your life, for the next 6 months and you don’t really get an off day.
Where were you when you got the call up for the senior team?
I was at training. It a little easier to go from the U21 team to the senior team because you train with them once a week, you see them every day. You’ve played with a few of them in the Vodacom Cup. The side is quite young, a lot of 21 year olds and 22 year olds. What makes it easier is that you’re there all the time and you’re always in their presence. Being around guys like Schalk Burger, it’s a very humbling experience; and you gain a massive sense of humility.
What do you have to put in rugby to play at this level?
Nic Groom put it very well. He handed out jersey to us before one of our U21 games and his message during the jersey hand-out was “You can never be found wanting for effort”. So you can be found wanting for 10cm or 2 seconds off your 100m time, but never effort. As long as you’re trying your hardest. There’s a saying that goes “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work” and I think that’s the perfect quote for rugby. So it’s just effort, hard work and sacrifice.
What about future aspiration for playing for the Springboks?
It’s gotten a bit more realistic now I guess. I never in my life thought I’d be sitting on the bench next to Schalk Burger. Ever. I ate the Schalk Burger burger at Steers. Of course I’d like to be a professional rugby player. I’d like to send my kids to school on a rugby salary, if that is possible. But at the same time I know there is more to life out there. I definitely want to study next year, through UNISA or something, but I would love to live my dream, everybody wants to live their dream.