Prop JP Koen keen to stay Southland starter

STEPPED UP: Stags prop JP Koen has come off the bench for the Highlanders in their past two Super Rugby fixtures.
STEPPED UP: Stags prop JP Koen has come off the bench for the Highlanders in their past two Super Rugby fixtures.

Pirates-Old Boys prop JP Koen is the ultimate example of patience leading to success.

The 30-year-old South African shifted to New Zealand a decade ago and linked up with the Pirates-Old Boys club in Invercargill.

For the past 10 seasons he has been a frontline prop in the Southland premier club rugby scene forming an important part of the Pirates-Old Boys scrum.

For most of that time, club rugby had been his lot outside some games for the Southland development team or the Southland Metro team.

He would often be called in to train with the Stags as injury cover but the opportunities never came - at least that was until last season.

In his ninth season of premier club rugby Koen last year was handed his shot to play for the Stags. He came off the bench in the preseason game against Otago to make his Southland debut.

In round five of the national provincial championship he had his first start when he lined up on the loosehead side of the scrum against Manawatu with captain Jamie Mackintosh suspended.

When Mackintosh returned Koen was switched to the tight-head side starting a further five games.

For Koen he has finally cracked it.

"It worked out for me just training hard and being patient," he said yesterday.

While Koen finally reached his goal last season his challenge is to remain a regular starter.

Today marks 100 days to the Stags' first game in the 2014 provincial competition and Koen knows at this stage his club form is as important as ever.

"Morgan Mitchell is there and going quite well from what I hear so there's some good competition," he said in regard to the push for the Stags tight-head spot.

Koen does have a handy ability in that he is accustomed to playing on both sides of the scrum, something he wants to maintain.

"I'm playing a bit of both in the club season to keep my options open, just to let (coach) Brad (Mooar) know I can play both sides and not just the one side."

In South Africa he played for one of the country's strongest university teams Tuks and received coaching from well-regarded coach Dick Muir.

The original move to New Zealand was prompted mainly for rugby but also because of a struggle to get work in his home country.

"It was pretty hard to get a job straight out of school because of the coloured thing back then. You would struggle to get a job if you were a white male at that time."

When Koen originally come to New Zealand from South Africa the plan was to stay for six months or so.

However, 10 years on he has a family in the deep south and Invercargill is home.

At the moment he is having to juggle his rugby commitments with his work at Tiwai which does provide a challenge.

"It is pretty hard to manage it. Especially with club rugby you come home from night shift, have a sleep for three or four hours and then play rugby, and then you're straight back into work again," he said.

Koen's Pirates-Old Boys team has had a mixed start to the season winning two and losing two. Their next assignment will be against unbeaten Star at Waverley Park in Invercargill on Saturday.

In other round six premier fixtures the Eastern-Northern Barbarians and Marist will meet in Waikaia while Midlands will host Woodlands.

Blues will play division one team Edendale in the crossover fixture.

The Southland Times