Former UCT flank Vince Jobo is excited by the prospect of playing Major League Rugby for the New Orleans Gold. NICHOLAS McGREGOR reports.
Sadly, though, Jobo will have to wait until next year to make his MLR debut. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury during New Orleans’ final warm-up match that ruled him out of the inaugural season.
The 27-year-old loose forward has been plying his trade in the United States for the past two years. Jobo played for a host of South African sides, including the Eastern Province Kings, Free State Cheetahs and Western Province, before venturing over the Atlantic to pursue his rugby dreams.
Now, with the birth of Major League Rugby, Jobo sees a valuable career brewing in a historically unchartered rugby environment.
‘I left in January 2017 to play rugby in America for the Austin Blacks in Texas,’ he tells SARugbymag.co.za. ‘I felt I needed to explore other places while I can still play rugby. My other options were France or other teams in South Africa but I felt the States would be a good move for me as rugby is fresh and exciting here at the moment. I felt I could share my knowledge of what I’ve learned playing over the years in South Africa, and also learn from the players here.’
Jobo says his relationship with Gold general manager Ryan Fitzgerald, as well as the culture of New Orleans, factored into him choosing the Louisiana side.
‘After a season with the Austin Blacks, I got in touch with Ryan Fitzgerald and wondered if I was considering joining New Orleans for the upcoming new professional league in America. I was in talks with other MLR teams too at that time but the connection I had with Ryan was really good, which made it easy for me to choose which team I wanted to play for. He is a people’s person, he has your back no matter what.
‘Once all the paperwork was sorted, Visa stuff included, I headed over to one of the best cities in the world in my view. So much culture, so much authenticity, I fell in love with the city the moment I got here.’
The Krugersdorp-born loose forward is excited about the new league and believes Americans will fall in love with the physicality of rugby.
‘I’m excited about the MLR, this is great news for American rugby as a whole. To have your own domestic competition will only benefit the national team. It’s going to be big! CBS and ESPN will be broadcasting the games, which will be good for people to watch another contact sport other than football [NFL]. The people here are crazy about their sport, they support their teams through thick and I know they will love rugby.’
Jobo was part of the famous UCT team that scored three tries in the last five minutes to beat Pukke 39-33 in the Varsity Cup final in 2014.
‘Varsity Cup was amazing for me,’ he says. ‘In my first year of playing Varsity Cup we ended up winning the tournament, with one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the tournament or the game in general. I was fortunate enough to be injury free and play every game, which opened doors for me to sign a professional contract with the Free State Cheetahs. What I learned with that UCT team, with coach Kevin Musikanth, I will carry with me for life.’
The flanker is still a fan of the tournament that gave him his start.
‘I still follow the Varsity Cup, I support UCT all the way. The time difference is bad but I always manage to watch the highlights when I can. It’s a good competition and opens doors to professional rugby for young players in South Africa, but most importantly being able to study and get a degree while doing that is a bonus.’
Jobo says he hasn’t dismissed the idea of one day representing the country of his birth, but that if the Eagles came knocking he would be more than eager to answer the call.
‘Every kid who plays rugby in South Africa dreams of playing for the Springboks. If the opportunity presented itself, I would grab it with both hands. But in saying that, this is my second year in America. After this year I have one more year to qualify, so at the end of 2019, I’ll be eligible to represent the USA. I’ve always wanted to play international rugby and play against the best in the business. So if I get a called up for the Eagles I will grab that opportunity with everything I’ve got.’