Born and bred in New Zealand David Casey, like so many of his countrymen, is a rugby freak. He eats, sleeps and breathes rugby. The passion he has for the sport shines through with every mention of a player, a try, a stadium or “old friends” who are All Blacks. During his rugby career he played first class rugby for Taranaki a provincial New Zealand team who ironically recently just won the most coveted prize in NZ rugby the Ranfurly Sheild. So how does a semi professional rugby player end up in Cavtat training the Dubrovnik Invictus Rugby Club? When we heard that Casey had arrived in the city we just had to hear his story.
It’s a long way from New Zealand to Dubrovnik. How did you get involved with the Invictus rugby club Dubrovnik?
Let’s start right at the beginning. In 1998 I moved to Auckland and I meet the Croatian National Seven’s rugby team who were training to go to the World Cup in Hong Kong. I ended up training with them for five weeks whilst they were getting ready for that tournament. In fact that World Cup was Croatia’s greatest success in the rugby world as they almost defeated New Zealand.
So that was the beginning of my Croatian rugby story. I have to add that my mother’s father, or my grandfather, is from Croatia. He moved to New Zealand and my mother was born there. I have always said that I would love to travel at some point to Croatia and, quite strangely, through my Croatian born lawyer in New Zealand I got in contact with a team in Zagreb. So last year I arrived in Zagreb to train the RK Zagreb team. I was there for four months. However I have always wanted to live on the Adriatic so when I got the opportunity to come to Dubrovnik I grabbed it and I am glad I did.
Casey playing against one of the greats of world rugby, Jonah Lomu, and feeling right at home in Cavtat
Where is Croatian rugby on worldwide scale? What is the level of the sport here and how would you compare it to other developing rugby nations?
The rugby World Cup is the third biggest sporting event on the planet. I think the ultimate man’s team sport, from a gladiator point of view, is rugby. In fact rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the world. Rugby in Croatia is just breathing; it’s in a flat line state, and needs fresh ideas and creative promotion and better organisation. One thing that could really bring life back to the sport here is to make it semi-professional. As well the media needs to be given more to work with. If the heads of the game here created some promotional events or feel-good stories then the sport would be more frequently in the media spotlight. It could be really big. The sport is still pretty much at a base level so there is only one way to go. The players are passionate and are willing to learn they just need better organisation and support behind them.
For example I would love to organise a match between the Croatian National Team and an international barbarian team in the near future. I am in a fortunate position here at Invictus in so much as we have a couple of very passionate rugby fans and leading Dubrovnik businessmen involved in the club. Without their help and knowledge it would be much harder to get the Invictus project going. A rugby club needs to be run as a business. When we can show other businesses in the region that being connected with the club is good for them, in terms of business networking and marketing, we will take another step forward.
Casey planning to take Invictus and Croatian rugby onto the next level
Which league are Invictus in and what are your hopes for the future?
We are currently in the Croatian second division where there are five teams in the league. We have two teams from Zagreb in the league which will mean a bit of travelling for us.
Where would you like to see the Invictus rugby club in the future?
Firstly I would like to see us in the first Croatian division. Being the number one sevens side in Croatia and also playing in a European competition. Putting exhibition games on where we would host for example the Croatian national team and other international teams. And also getting creative with other promotional ideas to push rugby forward in the region and in the country.
Dubrovnik is a beautiful city and the rugby club can use this fact to help promote the sport to the rest of the region.
The future is bright but now is the time to act and start forcing home some of the ideas we have to bring rugby up to the level that it deserves.
Casey playing in Austria for the RK Zagreb team
What has been the attitude of the players since you have been here?
Yes, all of the players have been very positive. The problem is not with the players the problems with the sport in Croatia is at a higher level. Rugby is a product and a product that is just waiting to be sold.