There is certainly no shortage of quality loose forwards in the Sharks ranks, with players of the calibre of Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes and Keegan Daniel around. However there is nothing better for the fans, than seeing a local boy coming through the ranks and making the breakthrough into the big time. There is that extra degree of pride when witnessing a home grown product representing the team he has grown up supporting.
One of the brightest prospects currently in the Sharks set-up is local talent, Justin Downey and as fans, we have high hopes that 2009 is the season where we see his development take a further step forward and that he gets a crack in the Sharks first team squad. Downey has impressive physical attributes, standing 1.92m tall and weighing in at 105kg and is ideally built for the role of number 7 flanker.
I managed to catch up with Justin to try and get some inside information on the man and life at the Sharks….
Can you tell us a bit about your background, schools you attended, when you started playing rugby etc
I was born in Johannesburg but have lived in Durban virtually my entire life. Started playing junior rugby from the age of 9 and attended Northwood Boys High in Durban North.
Have you always been a loose forward / flanker?
I started out as a loose forward and played most of my school career there. Switched position to centre in Standard 9 and played centre for Northwood first XV in STD 9 and Matric. After school I spent a season in Otago, New Zealand and reverted back to loose forward.
You attended the Mexted academy in New Zealand. Tell us how that came about, your experiences there, who else player wise was there at the time. Also who coached you and were there any significant coaching influences on your career?
Firstly I’d like to state that it was an absolute honour and privilege for me to attend the Mexted academy. I was privately sponsored by a close friend, Mr Chris Larsen to attend the academy and it has had a profound influence on my rugby philosophy. The whole mindset over there is different and so professional. The finest details of your game are examined and refined. I would recommend the whole experience to any rugby player who has the opportunity to attend.
Many of the guys that were there with me played in the Air New Zealand Cup and a few of them are now in the Super 14 squads for this year. I still keep in contact with a number of them. Our team at IRANZ was coached by Dave Rennie (NZ under 20 and Manawatu Turbos coach). In addition, each player was assigned a mentor. My mentor was the former Sharks legend and New Zealand great, Murray Mexted. Murray being a former loose forward was the ideal mentor for me and apart from being a fantastic man, he added so much to my development as a player. He taught me so many valuable lessons and there is simply no-one better that I could have had as a mentor. I still keep in touch with him and he continues to provide me with tips and advice.
Do you play any other sports? And if so at what level?
I play quite a bit of golf and currently play off a 10 handicap. Wednesday is our day off so that’s when all the Sharks guys usually play
It’s the middle of the season (all pre season work out of the way), what would a typical week for Justin Downey involve (training, gym time, relaxation etc)?
Assuming match day is the Saturday, my week would be along the lines of:
Monday and Tuesday we have early morning gym sessions followed by either a skills session or pilates. In between sessions, most of the guys either attend to business commitments or take it easy. Afternoons involve a review of the past weekends game and some field sessions. Wednesdays are our days off. Thursday is usually a light gym session in the morning, with a game related field session in the afternoon. This is where our strategy and moves are refined. Friday involves a 30 minute captains run in the afternoon, leaving us fresh and ready for the game the next day.
What do you enjoy doing to relax/ your major interests?
I enjoy fishing and as also try and play as much golf as I can.
Who is your closest buddy in the Sharks squad?
Rory Kockott is my closest buddy and has also had the most influence on me. Not just as a rugby player but as a very close friend too. I have learnt so much from him, with his positive outlook.
Have you ever considered playing abroad? Or have you ever been approached to play overseas?
Currently I am very happy at the Sharks and have no desire to move anywhere but equally would never close the door on other opportunities.
As you are still developing and trying to break into the Sharks senior side, not a lot of our readers would have seen you in action. How would you describe your style of play? Your main strengths and assets? And do you model your game on any player in particular?
I can’t say I model myself on any particular player but I do strive to be a complete all-round ball player and pick up little bits from a number of players. I would say that I’m a strong ball carrier and equally adept, on the ground, fetching the ball.
What are your short term goals /ambitions for the 2009 season?
It would be fantastic if I could get some game time in the Super 14 but if not I do hope to make an impression in the Currie Cup later in the year.
In the fans eyes, nothing beats a local boy coming through the ranks and making the big time. Did you grow up a Sharks fan? And if so, who were your heroes?
I’ve always been a fan and being involved with the Sharks is a dream come true. To play alongside guys like John Smit, Johan Muller and Stefan Terblanche is incredible and such a privilege.
Which players, both local and international, do you admire/enjoy watching?
Well as a loose forward, I have to say Richie McCaw. Simply awesome player.
All of us fans have an SA team that we dislike the most. Personally it’s the Stormers and I know for a lot of other Sharks fans, it’s the Bulls. Do you have a least favourite SA team?
I can’t really say that I have a least favourite. I’ve got a lot of respect for all the SA teams we play against. (Villie’s note: Very diplomatic Justin, excellent answer)
This one is for our large number of lady readers. Do you have a girlfriend? Where did you meet and how long have you been together? Did she like rugby before meeting you?
I do have a girlfriend, Simone. We met at school and have been together for 2 years now. She is a professional dancer, currently with the Cape Dance Company. I think she always enjoyed rugby but now is a huge fan.
Finally, I know a lot of the guys follow the English Premier League football? Are you into it? And who do you support?
I don’t follow it constantly but have a slight preference for Manchester United.
I would like to express my thanks to Justin for answering my questions and send him best wishes for the coming season. I’m sure we will all be keeping a keen eye out and hoping that he does manage to crack some game time.Tweet