Superstars Among Us

Throughout the year, The Harbus has profiled many of HBS’ “Superstars among us” who walk the same halls and sit next to you in class, but have had experiences before or during their MBA studies which most of us can only dream about. In this issue, Harbus Sports profiles Jorge O’Hara, international rugby superstar and member of the 2002-2003 HBS Rugby Football Club, with his sidekick, Derek Mendez, also a member of the HBS Rugby team and equally well-known internationally.

Harbus: Seems to be some confusion over your name. Should I call you Jorge, superstar, George?

JOH: Jorge is fine if you are among the few that can get the “j” Spanish pronunciation.

DM: Just call him the “Greatest Peruvian Hero” – for either the hair or for what he secretly wears underneath his rugby uniform.

Harbus: When did you start playing rugby?

JOH: I started playing rugby relatively late, when I was 23 and definitely the Irish blood helped in picking up the game. Rugby didn’t exist in Peru in 1996. There was only one team, of mainly ex-pats from England, Ireland, Scotland, etc., that played occasionally with crews from ships that would dock in Lima or rugby teams from Chile or Argentina that would sometimes tour because of a personal contacts in the team. The team was called the Bullfrogs.

In 1996, a group of friends who had played a little bit of rugby during their school years (as part of the Physical Education curriculum) decided they wanted to play again. They contacted one of the teachers from their school, who was at the time captain of the Bullfrogs and asked him to be the coach. Because they were only 9 players they recruited friends who they thought would enjoy the game, and that’s how I came into the group. After six months I decided to start a team at my university together with a Professor. At the beginning I was the coach, captain, and player but as things grew we institutionalized the leadership. Other players went on to form other clubs, recruiting friends from all over and in less than a year and a half there were 7 teams playing in the local championship. In 2000 we participated for the first time in an international competition with a National team.

DM: I had never played rugby before arriving at HBS. Apparently that could have qualified me to play for the Peruvian National Team…

Harbus: You’ve represented Peru at international level. How much harder are the hits?

JOH: They are much harder than what I was used to in the Peruvian league. The physical condition of “professional” players is amazing and the strength and speed at which they play the game is at another level. I remember the first game against New Zealand in Punta del Este. The game started with their kick off and after catching the ball I ran towards their defense line. I tried to dribble past one of their players and just as I thought I was going to make it I remember being hit by what I thought was a truck and then the next thing I remember is being in the ground thinking, “oh shi# what was that??? Am I still in one piece?”

DM: I have to admit that I’ve seen Jorge take some pretty big hits. While we were on tour in the Bahamas last year he got cracked when he least expected it, and I didn’t think he would recover. But wouldn’t you know it, he cracked that guy right back before the tour was done. When you see stuff like that, you can’t help but wince.

Harbus: Who is the best player you’ve played against?

JOH: New Zealand had two sevens players that really amazed me. One of them is the captain and legendary sevens player, Eric Rush. He is an amazingly complete player with incredible tackling skills, very good ball skills and knowledge of the game like few others. The other player, who was actually chosen MVP in Punta del Este (beating super stars like Waisele Serevi and Chester Williams), was Karl Tenana. This guy’s speed showed the change of pace in the New Zealand game. He plays fullback and every time he cut into the line he would go through defenders like a hot knife through butter.

DM: There was this guy nicknamed “Pogo” who played for Bermuda. He was about 5’6″ and 300 pounds, and once he got his momentum up it would take four or five guys to bring him down. I still remember Tony Carango (OA) thinking he could tackle him solo if he just stayed low – well, Tony just got flattened. Pogo dragged three of us along with him on the way to scoring a try. Thankfully the rest of the team was not like him.

Harbus: What’s it like to be a rugby player?

JOH: Rugby is one of the most complete sports I have played. A good rugby player must have speed, stamina, good ball handling, good tackling and a good sense of positioning in the field. But apart from that, rugby is also the most “team” sport, were you depend so much on your players, that seldom will a good player on his own make much of a difference on a game. When you go into the defensive line and get tackled, you count on your team to clear the defenders from “rucking” over, which means sometimes they just literally stomp over you. Finally, the team spirit is carried outside the field as well. As I learned during my first practices, rugby is said to be played in “three halves”; two on the field of 40 minutes each, and the “third half” in a bar just after the game.

I have made very good friends through rugby wherever I have played and my rugby tours and trips have always been highlights in my life. In Peru given it is still amateur and very small. A passion for the sport, friendship, trips, and few good hits every now and then are the only perks you get.

DM: That’s a really long-winded way of saying he didn’t have any groupies…but I bet he wishes he did!

Harbus: Rumor has it that your hair is the source of your power…
JOH: I think it is. That is why I still have not had the courage to get a decent hair cut like yours…

DM: Little known fact – Jorge used to manage the “Soul Glo” product line in Peru for P&G.

Harbus: Whilst you’re famous for your ability Jorge many more people will remember your campus fashion statements. Do grey sweatpants really go with anything?

JOH: I think they do, although I bought a more “upscale” black pair for the “Elegant” balls and for work next year…

DM: Don’t forget the fanny pack…

Harbus: Since you’re moving along with the rest of the rugby team, care to fill us in on the strengths and weaknesses of your fellow graduates?

Tony Carango (OA)
JOH: motivational speeches, height, throwing straight …but really his heart is in the game, he is a great tackler and one player who will leave absolutely everything on the pitch.

DM: Not only will he leave everything on the pitch, but apparently he’s also the only one who decides when the season is over.

Julian Coulter (OG)
JOH: His pronunciation, forgetting the words of “Wild Rover”, drinking beer very slowly and getting drunk very quickly……but more than all, his sense for knowing where to be. He is the one guy I would always find in support when breaking through the opponents’ line and he is deadly tackler as well.

DM: His diet of celery made it painful to sit next to him in class at times.

Shoney Katz (OC)
JOH: His permanent smile…but also he is a very smart player that takes the right decisions of when to crash, when to pass. He is also a very good tackler.

DM: Sings a pretty mean karaoke too…

Nam Kry (OC)
JOH: His ability to threaten his own team members…but more than that, his speed. If the ball gets to Nam you can almost hear him go “beep, beep” as he rushes by. He is also a great tackler.

DM: Actually, Nam’s the “voice of reason” on the team. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be running around naked and drunk somewhere.

Derek Mendez (OD)
JOH: His world famous Angus Pint and the Wombat race…but really Derek picked up the game incredibly quickly. He got to HBS without having played ever before and by the end of his MBA he played for Australia Graduate Sc
hool of Management

DM: What, I’m not a good tackler?

Key Kiarie (OK)
JOH: His ability to lick his own boobs, his ball handling skill… but also Key is another player who had never seen rugby before HBS. He was able to “transport” his Football skills to rugby and by the end of the two years was a deadly winger in the HBS team

DM: He’s still got it!

Dave Miller (OB)
JOH: his deceptively slow spin move, his impartiality as the Kangaroo Court judge, his capacity to drink, smoke and play rugby…all at the same time!……but really Dave is a very solid center, with good ball handling, strength in the crashes and good defense.

DM: Quality guy, tremendous tackling dummy.

Josh Hall (OF)
JOH: His ability to schedule games at the most random days and times, his hospital passes…but really, Josh is an incredible scrum half, always there on the rucks and mauls to get the ball quickly and always looking for the gaps to exploit on his own.

DM: Definitely a player you want on your side during the match – brings up the playing level of everyone around him (and boy did I need it!)

David Merle (OF)
JOH: being French…but really David is an outstanding forward who you look for every time you need offensive power to take in the ball and make the gain line. He is also very quick to get in support and has a good sense for the game

DM: One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet off the field, but once he straps on his rugby boots, stay out of his way.

Karim El Naggar (OA)
JOH: being French too…but also Karim has a good understanding of the game, and when he manages not to get injured, he is a very strong tackler as well.

DM: Best known for losing his bike on the way home from a drink-up and having his wife find him snoring on the front doorstep.

Nacho Palma (OF)
JOH: not showing up for tours…or practice…or even to the games…but really it was a pity that Nacho didn’t play much. He is a very intelligent player always looking for the gaps and taking decision quickly on the go.

DM: But apparently not a very good tackler.

Richard “Pav” Pawlowski (OC)
JOH: Being unbreakable, singing arcane Old Chicago Store verses…but really from the little that Pav played with us I saw a deadly flanker with much destructive power and also a very good sense of the backs’ movements because of his experience as center.

DM: Tremendous guy, unlucky with injuries.

Jorge O’Hara (OI)
DM: Truly an awesome rugby player and good friend off the pitch, but oblivious to the fact that this “interview” would give the rest of us the last laugh!