Uctrfc.co.za caught up with former Ikey’s loose forward, and recent short-term coach JJ Gagiano on the eve of his departure to Bath with his wife, Lisa. Gagiano has a rich rugby history having been a part of both the South African provincial rugby circuit, and the USA Eagles team for an extended period.
The 28-year-old was born in Cape Town, and played for the Ikey Tigers on-and-off from 2008 – 2012. Importantly, in 2008 he bagged a place on the USA Eagles team, and as well as playing in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, has gone on to play 14 Tests for the Americans. In terms of the South African provincial rugby scene, in 2010 he played for the Eastern Province Kings, in 2012 he joined the Golden Lions for five games, and similarly in 2012 he played two games for Western Province.
Needless to say, former UCT captain Gagiano is highly experienced and has a rich rugby background from which to draw from. He was asked to be the UCT 1st XV coach for the latter half of their WP Super League season. Together with his fellow coaching staff, Gagiano guided the team, who went on to finish second on the overall log. His time on the coaching bench was highly successful and appreciated by players and staff alike.
How have you found your year to be, which has included a substantial period of time coaching the Ikey Tigers?
It has been an extremely interesting and challenging and one that I have grown substantially.
What did it mean to you when you were called on, or asked, to take on the coaching position?
It took me some time to consider this wonderful opportunity. It is an enormous responsibility, you are not just a rugby coach, you have the opportunity to transform and change young men lives. I felt extremely proud and privileged to even be considered to able to take over the Ikey Tigers.
How did you find the transition?
The transition was interesting. I have played with most of the players and that took some getting used to. Dropping and selecting players was tough as well as ensuring that practices are fun and educational. I was very fortunate to have a magnificent management team. Tom Dawson Squibb helped me immensely from a high performance and player management perspective. Mike Van Rheede, Geoff Huber and Paul Day have 6 VC and league campaigns behind their names – that is experience was crucial to our success. Then of course the players made my job even easier and a huge thank you must go to them.
The Ikeys have scores of fans that bare all kinds of weather conditions to back the boys. Why do you think the Ikeys brand/team is so special?
There a number of factors that contributes to this. Firstly we are student club affiliated to the best University in Africa. The culture we have tried to install in our players is one of becoming better people. This is crucial to our success and our existence. Our players are young, vibrant and always want to have a good time and I think this feeds into our style of rugby. The crowd enjoys the way we play, where we rely on skill and brains rather than brawn. Don’t get me wrong we want to achieve a great balance between the two but we always lean towards attractive rugby.
Tell us a little bit about your move to Bath? What are all the factors resulting in your departure?
I have been accepted to study a MSc in Integrated Environmental Management from Bath University. I have grown up in Cape Town for the last 28 years and feel that I need to experience something new and take me out of my comfort zone. My wife is British and we feel it is the best time to take on a new challenge to grow as a couple and as people.
Why will you miss Cape Town?
Where to start!? Cape Town is a beautiful place, with many diverse cultures. Will miss the wonderful people and friendships that we have made along the way. We will miss UCT immensely; it is a very special place with amazing people who have been incredible to us.
Did/do you have any advice or words of wisdom to pass on to the team?
Keep it simple, keep working hard, keep working together and most importantly don’t forget why you play this wonderful game called rugby. Enjoy your time at UCT because before you know it, it is finished.
What factors of their game/mentality do you think they need to work on in the off season, and next year in order to carry forward the immense momentum they have generated this year?
I believe we need to become more relentless in everything we do. Stick to the basics, rugby is all about the basics. Keep building and keep getting better, the boys have put an immense amount of work in laying the foundation this past year. It is time to see that work come to fruition.