Hohneck decides he's a Southern man - for now

Otago prop Josh Hohneck gets ready to receive a pass with front row partner Liam Coltman ...
Otago prop Josh Hohneck gets ready to receive a pass with front row partner Liam Coltman (obscured) in behind at training at Logan Park this week. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The world works in mysterious ways these days.

One year into a new three year deal at English club Gloucester, Josh Hohneck was enjoying his life, safely tucked up and living in the rolling hill country of the Cotswolds.

Now a few months later, he is back to pig hunting in the backblocks of Waikouaiti and wearing a blue and gold jersey.

The big tighthead prop, who played in all but one game for the Highlanders in 2015 as the side won the title, has - like most - had an eventful 2020.

He was one year into a three year deal at Gloucester when the season was halted because of Covid-19.

"I was pretty happy there; everything was going well, and then they halted our season and cut our pay a little bit. They gave everyone the opportunity to go home because we were going into the June break," Hohneck said.

"So I came home. We had a baby due — it was better off going home, and once we had the baby, look at coming back when we finished.

"But once I got home I started realising, I missed home a bit. [I] spent time on the farm and thought I wouldn’t mind sticking around New Zealand for a while. [I] had a few conversations with Gloucester and managed to wrangle out of a contract.

"I enjoyed my time over there. The standard is pretty high level - a bit slower than here but physical. Contact is a big thing, set piece is important as is defence. Maybe a little bit less ambitious in the attack cycles."

Hohneck (34) was talked about as an England player as he qualified through family, but said that was never a focus.

He had bought a property in Waikouaiti before he left for England in 2016 and the south held some attraction.

There is also a family property on Awhitu Peninsula, southwest of Auckland.

"I was home just before the first lockdown - two weeks of self isolation then straight into lockdown. [I] just worked on the [Awhitu] property - bit of building, earthworks, farming. That is part of the reason I stuck around really.

"It’s not a bad part of the world, but my heart is probably down here. [I] just like the people, the lifestyle. I don’t mind the colder weather - it is good for hunting. I do a little bit of anything. Done it for years now. Get out with the dogs, butcher up a bit of meat, give it away ... a bit of active meditation."

Rugby was still on his mind in lockdown and he still had good friends in the South.

"I ended up having a few conversations with a few guys - what I do next, whether I want to play. I didn’t want to be out of the game for too long.

"I wanted to play down here, rather than stay up home and maybe not [be] as emotionally invested in it. Some ways it was not the logical decision given I had a house up there. [I] thought ‘get down here and have a bit of southern life and can see the family and grandkids’."

He and his partner, Sam Dolan, have two daughters - Olive (2) and August (8 weeks).

He played a few games for Eastern, got signed by Otago but the future it is not too clear. He still reckons he has a few years left in him.

"Do I want to stay here? Do I want to go back overseas? Nothing is certain at the moment, so that makes it tough. I have had some positive conversations with a couple of Super Rugby franchises just about deciding what to do next. I’ll see if those offers come to fruition. My body is fine, really good. [I] played 100 games overseas and [have] never broken anything."

• New Zealand Rugby was unable to provide the penalty imposed on Otago flanker Slade McDowall for his red card against Hawke’s Bay last Sunday. The process was still being completed.


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