Rugby World Cup 2011

Gagiano's whirlwind experience

2011-10-21 13:34
JJ Gagiano (File)

Cape Town - While most South Africans were left cursing Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence after the Springboks' gut-wrenching quarter-final loss to Australia two weeks ago, one South African-born player at the Rugby World Cup achieved something that the Boks did not in Wellington that day.

USA Eagles No 8 JJ Gagiano scored a try against the Wallabies in their Pool C tussle on September 23 - ironically at the same venue as SA's quarter-final defeat - one of just seven tries conceded by the Men in Gold in their seven matches as they went on to beat the Boks in a gruelling Last Eight match a few weeks later before going down to the All Blacks in the semi-finals.

Despite his team having gone down 67-5 to the Wallabies that day, Gagiano - who first made a name for himself at Varsity Cup level in South Africa - emerged from that match with his reputation enhanced, his superb individual try having made people stand up and take notice.

"It was such an amazing experience," Gagiano told

"Playing my first World Cup match - against a team like the Wallabies - is something I will never forget.

"It's not often you get to play a side like Australia," he added. "But you make one mistake and they come at you. That's something we learnt, as a team, and it will certainly stay with me for a long time."

Go on then... what about the try? Gagiano just smiled, adding: "Our scrum was going backwards, but I was quite lucky in that I spotted a gap and just backed myself once I made my mind up to go for the tryline.

"I wouldn't say it was the best try ever, and it probably looked better than it was, but it certainly added to the occasion and the experience!"

Unfortunately for Gagiano, that match against the Wallabies was to be his only appearance at the World Cup.

Those 80 minutes against Australia, however, made all the hard work and sacrifices worth it, the 26-year-old having given up a full-time playing contract this year in order to chase his World Cup dream.

"It's been a long slog," he admitted.

"But it wasn't just that Australian match... seeing a rugby-mad nation like New Zealand from up close, making new friends, playing against quality players and just being part of a great vibe in the USA Eagles squad. It's a great squad to be a part of - we enjoy each other's company, and that made the World Cup even more enjoyable. I'm lucky in that I've made some real friends for life.

"It's quite odd sitting here, back in Cape Town, and yet the final hasn't even been played yet," he adds. "You could say it was something of a whirlwind experience... but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."

Looking ahead, Gagiano is hoping to secure a new playing contract - either in South Africa or abroad - while he also recently got engaged.

"There's no rest for the wicked," he laughs when referring to his recent engagement to his girlfriend Lisa.

"I've had great support from Lisa and my parents over these past few years, so it was great to have had them there at the World Cup too.

"As far as my future is concerned, I'm just keen to get playing again. I took a nice, relaxing break in Australia after the World Cup... but I'm very, very keen to get cracking again.

"In 2008, 2009 and 2010 I probably played a bit too much rugby... now I'm probably short of a gallop but very excited about the next challenge that lies ahead."


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