uctrfc.co.za caught up with Ikey Tigers skipper JJ Gagiano. The skilful no8 lead the team to a Varsity Cup top spot and through a tough Super League competition. JJ is now facing a new challenge as he has been called into the US Eagles squad to play several matches starting late October.
UCT lock Bodo Sieber interviewed his team mate, who took some time to chat between a gym session with his personal trainer Jody Burch and flying a toaster with wings.
uctrfc.co.za / BS: JJ, cheers for taking the time. No rest for the wicked, clearly. Your boots are still dirty from the Ikey’s season and off you go again. When did you find out about your Eagles Selection?
JJ: I found out last week, Dobbo (1stXV Coach John Dobson) received an email from the US Eagles management, asking if I would be interested in joining their squad for a trial, for four games coming up in November.
uctrfc.co.za: Great stuff! Gagiano, common American surname, so your forefathers baked the first Pizza with organic Mayflour in Plymouth, New England? One would have expected Nick Mallet to give you a buzz to join his Azzuri.
JJ: (laughs) I doubt this is historically correct, but well observed, my surname is indeed Italian. I have a US passport through my mother. I missed out on the Italian passport by one or two generations, but this is a great opportunity and I am just really happy that I managed to get this call!
uctrfc.co.za: Awesome, so you add to the international flavour of the side. Who are you guys playing against and when?
JJ: As mentioned, this is a trial. There is an initial squad of 44, and this gets cut down to 27 for the two test matches against Japan. I am hoping that I make this squad of 27. There are four games three full tests and one game against a New Zealand Heartland XV. The tests are against Uruguay and two tests against Japan in Tokyo. The training camp is in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it starts on the 29th of October.
uctrfc.co.za: We have no doubt you’ll crack it! It sounds amazing, even though it is quite a schedule. We heard the US Eagles Captain Todd Clever has signed in SA, do you know anything further?
JJ: I did hear that he had signed for the Lions but unfortunately I don’t know anything else, besides that he is a very good player.
uctrfc.co.za: Will he be leading the team, or is it more of a building process with some new faces? Is anyone we should know in the mix? Does the Zim born flyer, what’s his name – Habana’s Word Cup mate – get time off from his French club?
JJ: It was Takudzwa Ngwenya who famously burned Bryan Habana I am not sure who will be coming to the training camp, I think the USA eagles website will post the squad up soon. It will be really awesome if him and Clever were coming, a great opportunity to play with guys who have achieved the pinnacle in rugby.
uctrfc.co.za: Ngwenya has also made quite a mark in 7s. If you are as fast on the big screen as you are in training, you might get re-united with another notorious varsity legend – Dallen Paki Stanford – and also play for US 7s. Would you be keen?
JJ: I would definitely be keen to give it go, it is one of my favourite forms of the game and if the opportunity arose I would definitely take it with both hands.
uctrfc.co.za: Is it true that one of your conditions for forsaking the Boks jersey was for John le Roux, the original Eagle, to be part of the US Eagles management?
JJ: That is true (laughs). He is an inspiration!
uctrfc.co.za: And we heard you might be flying yourself over the ocean, how far are you with that pilot licence? When will “This is your captain speaking” take on a new meaning?
JJ: (laughs) Chatting to a few of the guys they all said they would immediately disembark if they heard I was their captain. I am almost done though. It is only a couple more flights until I get the necessary amount of hours, its been frustrating lately especially with the horrible weather we’ve being having. I also have three more exams left which I am hoping to finish before I leave.
uctrfc.co.za: JJ you legend! Thanks for taking the time and good luck in the States and Japan. See you back when the Ikey Tigers Varsity Cup squad rallies to take another shot at the trophy in 2009!
JJ: Cheers, it’s been a pleasure! I will be back for that and am looking forward to being part of the winning squad for varsity cup 2009!!