- Jersey Reds are sixth in the Greene King IPA Championship
- Jersey Reds travel to Cornish Pirates on Sunday
A university graduate looking for a rugby club to call home, Hertfordshire's Sam Katz could not have envisaged his move would be to the Spanish top-flight and culminate in a meeting with the King.
But that is exactly how matters played out for the versatile back before he returned to sign for Championship club Jersey Reds last summer.
And, though he is more than happy to be back closer to home, Katz says he would encourage others to repeat his own experience of a lifetime.
Katz graduated from Loughborough University in 2014 with a finance degree and after failing to find a second-tier English club, made contact with French teams about a move across the Channel.
A call came from some old friends at the same time – Tom Pearce and Johny Carter – saying their team, based in Valladolid in central Spain, were in need of a fly-half. Quick as a flash Katz was on the plane to join El Salvador and didn’t look back.
Katz explained: “I enjoyed my first year so much that I stayed for a second.
“I was the top points’ scorer in both seasons there and last year my club won the league-cup double.
“I had the chance to play in a massive cup final in front of 26,000 people, the Copa del Rey de Rugby, which translates as the King’s Cup, and the King was there to present us with our medals.
“I’d already signed for Jersey, so it was a great way to sign off. It was a surreal day, but an awesome experience.”
Football’s loss is rugby’s gain
The aforementioned cup final was played against city rivals Valladolid RAC, finishing 13-9 to Katz’s side.
Rugby is proving to be incredibly popular in Valladolid, and for that, Katz believes, they have the city’s football team to thank.
Katz said: “Real Valladolid got relegated from La Liga, so the people of the city had lost a bit of faith and were looking for another sport to fall in love with.
“When I first moved I didn’t think of Spain as a country of rugby fans but we were getting crowds of 2-3,000 each week and 26,000 for the final. It was a massive surprise as I feared we would be playing in a half-empty stadium.
“It’s a totally different kettle of fish to the game here. The top league you could probably split in half. The top-six teams are probably on a par with National League teams here, and the second half are more like amateur sides. I’ve played in National 1 though, and that’s completely different.”
Get your passport out
After an eye-opening experience, the 26-year-old is happy to be back on British soil.
But Katz hopes the swansong of his career can be spent abroad and has urged others to think along similar lines.
He said: “If you go abroad to play there’s a risk you can fall off the radar of English clubs.
“That’s why I felt I had to take the opportunity to sign with Jersey while I could but I’d like to think I proved it was a risk worth taking, because I’ve learnt so much and I’ve still been able to join a club at Championship level.
“Anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation should look to play abroad, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“I picked up another language, which will serve me well post-rugby and it broadened my horizons.
“It’s a completely different culture over there but the experience was so good that I hope I can go back, perhaps towards the end of my career.”
Storming the Championship
Katz has seemingly taken to Championship rugby like a duck to water.
Jersey Reds have won three matches in a row and are sixth in the Greene King IPA Championship table, five points behind fourth-placed Ealing Trailfinders with a game in hand.
Katz added: “We’re in a good position going into the last period of the season. We’re confident.
“This is my first year in the Championship. I’ve previously always been a No.10, but I’ve been asked to fill a few roles this season, and I’ve been happy to.
“I’ve played at full-back and it’s been good, it’s not something that I’m unused to and I’ve managed to keep my kicking percentage ticking over.
“I’m not someone who looks too far ahead. Next season I hope to re-sign with Jersey, but if not play at a similar level, because I feel comfortable and that I belong here.
“I’d like to think I could play in the Premiership, that’s the dream. We’ll see.”