We Chat to South African Rugby Pro Jono Ross
Conversions, dropkicks, tackles and scrums – these are all well-known terms amongst South Africans in the realm of rugby – our most popular sport. For Jono Ross -this is a way of life, and his professional path has taken him all the way to England to play forward for the Sale Sharks in Manchester.
Jono is Joburg born and bred, hailing from Sandton and having attended St Stithians Boys College. After serving as captain for the First team in school – Jono went on to climb the professional rugby ladder, playing for the Golden Lions, Blue Bulls u21, Saracens and after a short 3 seasons, became the first English speaking rugby captain for the Blue Bulls during the Currie Cup – one of his most notable career achievements. He now resides in England, taking up his new post as Flanker for the Sale Sharks – a prestigious English rugby team, after foregoing his previous position with Stade Francais.
Jono Ross hangs up his rugby boots for a brief moment to chat to us about his career in professional rugby.
LET’S START FROM THE BEGINNING… HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU PICKED UP YOUR FIRST RUGBY BALL, WAS IT LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT?
No, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight to be honest, my dad also played a fair bit of rugby when he was younger so I think the love for the game was just passed on through the genes. I started playing rugby when I was about 13 years old. We started a rugby club when I was in primary school at St. Stithians College, this was really exciting and we played a couple games, which was great fun.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUT RUGBY JOURNEY FROM THEN?
My path to rugby has taken a few detours in many directions. I started off in school at St Stithians, where I went on to play provincial rugby and was the captain of the first team. Following the end of my matric year, I went over to Harlequins Academy in the UK for a season but in all honesty, I think I was a bit too young at the time. All of my mates were going to university and enjoying life back in SA, which made me feel as though I left a little too early.
After my 6 months at Harlequins, I came back to SA and signed a two year contract to play with the Bulls. Once I ended my two year contract I went back to the UK to play for Saracens for 6 months, which was probably the real turning point in my career – I was part of a great club and met some really incredible people.
I then came back to SA and actually considered giving up rugby, but I went on to play Super Rugby for the Bulls and I was captain during the Currie Cup, which was definitely a highlight of my career. After this I went to Paris to play for Stade Francais, which was quite a successful time for me. It was, however, a bit difficult adjusting to a new culture and language but careerwise, it was a great move. Now here I am, back in England again with the Sale Sharks, I’m very well travelled (laughs). Everything has started to click and run really smoothly.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE FOR JONO ROSS BEFORE HE WAS A PROFESSIONAL RUGBY PLAYER?
Pretty normal really – it was my schoolboy years – I became professional as soon as I left St Stithians. But I was really happy-go-lucky, enjoying time with my mates and enjoying school and it was a really good time. To be honest, a part of me regrets not having the student life that all my friends had, you know, I was so focused on trying to achieve something that I kind of missed out on what seemed to be a great period in life. But no real regrets, I am really happy where I am now and proud of what I’ve achieved.
DO YOU HAVE A SPORTING HERO OR GENERAL HERO THAT YOU’VE ALWAYS LOOKED UP TO?
Sporting hero – I used to look up to a guy called James Small, he played wing for the Boks. He was quite famous for his duel against Jonah Lomu back in 1995. I think I just really admired him for the character that he was – he fought for everything, and he was a pretty small guy but punched way above his weight.
Later on, the sports figure I looked up to was Lance Armstrong, I still respect him even though he’s been called a cheat. He still went through a hell of a lot and put in a hell of a lot of work to get to where he was.
WHAT IS A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JONO ROSS?
A day in the life of Jono Ross is pretty relaxed really. If I’m not at the club training, I’m probably watching some series with my fiancé, we rattle through them to be honest – Game of Thrones, Nashville is another fave, a whole bunch really!
If I’m not chilling in front of the TV, I’m out having coffee. I really enjoy going out to cafe’s and trying new spots – it’s a serious hobby of mine. Otherwise, golf is another sport I love, I really enjoy getting around a golf course when the weather allows it here in Manchester.
WHAT IS YOUR DIET LIKE WITH TRAINING? DO YOU FOLLOW ANY SPECIFIC EATING PLAN/REGIME?
I’ve been following a banting/keto diet for a couple years. I wouldn’t say that I’m very stringent or too hard on myself with my diet, I try and follow it but I definitely waver now and then – especially when I was in Paris, the croissants from the bakery downstairs always used to get me!
WHAT PREPARATION AND TRAINING DO YOU HAVE TO DO FOR A GAME/DURING THE SEASON?
As far as the team goes, we train 3 to 4 times a week. We’ll have 3 or 4 team sessions, and then some split sessions – this means forwards will train together doing lineouts and scrums, and then backs will have their session as well.
We also do a lot of strategic training, for example, we look at our attack strategy and try to imagine the opposing attack strategy, our defence and their defence, and ways to manipulate areas of their defence and attacks to counteract them, which also includes identifying our weak spots.
We then obviously have our training in the gym doing weights and exercises. I myself don’t necessarily have a special preparation or routine for games, I just like to make sure I sleep well leading up to the game. Eating plays a big role, as well as staying hydrated.
WE ALL KNOW RUGBY IS A PRETTY CONTACT HEAVY SPORT – WHAT’S THE MOST HECTIC INJURY YOU’VE GOTTEN?
When it comes to injuries I’ve actually been pretty lucky throughout my time. I’ve had bursitis on my knee, as well as other small injuries, and I had a shoulder injury that was never operated on. Probably the worst was when I broke my thumb, and the recovery period was only supposed to be two and a half months but ended up being 5 months due to surgery complications. That was my worst injury but I’ve seen some bad ones in my time, couple broken legs that have been really bad, but yes, I’ve been lucky thus far – touch wood.
WHERE DID YOU PICK UP THIS PASSION FOR SCRUMMING AND TACKLING?
I think the passion for rugby probably just came through living in a country like South Africa where almost everyone is mad for the game. My dad was a good rugby player back in his day as well, so that was a big motivating factor for me. He was a pretty big guy and of course having that passed down to me I didn’t really have a choice but to become a forward! The passion grows more and more as I climb up in my career.
WHAT IS JONO ROSS DOING WHEN HE ISN’T RUNNING AROUND THE RUGBY FIELD?
I really enjoy travelling, so every break that I get my Fiancé and I try shoot off to somewhere around Europe. We really want to experience the world and see as much as possible, and fortunately, we are so close to a lot of amazing places so it’s relatively easy for us! Otherwise I also really enjoy my downtime during my time off so a lot of relaxation comes in to play.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO RETURN TO SA AND PLAY HERE?
No, at the moment I don’t have any plans to return to South Africa in terms of playing. I’m quite happy where I am here in Europe and I would like to see out my career here – but you never know, things change so quickly. In terms of living, I probably will return to SA, but this obviously depends on what opportunities come up after rugby.
QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS FOR JONO ROSS
Island holiday or snowy holiday? Island
Pineapple on pizza: yes or no? Definitely yes
Favourite book? The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
If you could meet anyone in the world who would it be (dead or alive)? Nelson Mandela/the Queen
Would you rather have fingers for toes or toes for fingers? (laughs) Definitely fingers for toes.