“So why did you decide to dig me out the woodwork?”
Olly Kohn says people are far more interested in speaking to him now about his post-rugby ventures than his career in the sport.
It’s easy to see why.
As I meet him in his PIGSTY restaurant in Bristol, he’s juggling dealing with business calls while watering the plants. The one-cap Wales international is a busy man.
As well as owning his own restaurant, he has his own sausage company, Jolly Hog, as well as involvement in an estate agents.
And it was announced last week that he would be heading to the World Cup in Japan this year to work on the disciplinary panel for rugby’s showpiece.
How does he cope with having a finger in so many pies?
“I drink a lot of coffee,” he jokes.
“I think the secret for me is that I enjoy it. When I finished rugby, I thought whatever I did next was something I really had to enjoy.
“Otherwise, what’s the point?”
However, to answer his initial question, Kohn’s rugby career more than justifies digging him out of the woodwork.
And there’s only one place to start.
THAT WALES CALL-UP
Rugby fans would be forgiven for forgetting the Wales career of Kohn.
Back in 2013, the six-foot-seven, 21 stone lock found himself thrust into the spotlight for his 15 minutes of fame.
Well, seven minutes and 23 seconds to be precise. That’s how long his one and only appearance for Wales lasted.
In international terms, he was plucked from obscurity – well, as much as someone who had enjoyed a successful club career in England for Bristol and Harlequins can be called obscure – to feature on the bench for Wales’ 2013 Six Nations opener against Ireland in Cardiff.
But nevertheless, it was a surprise. Few seemed to know he was Welsh when he was called up. Thankfully, one of his team-mates did.
“One of the boys at Harlequins, Dave Ward, had spoken to my dad and found out about my Welsh heritage,” he explains. “He thought it was funny to put it on Twitter with the hashtag #KohnForWales. Ugo Monye, who has a load of followers, retweeted it and it spiralled from there.
“Within a couple of days, I was in camp. A lot of people thought I was German because of my second name. I’m half-English, quarter Czech and quarter Welsh. That’s my makeup – a mongrel. My grandad was a proud Welshman.
“BBC Wales called me and ran an article about me being Welsh-qualified. Rob Howley then rang me. He’d got my number from my agent. He said ‘get to camp tomorrow’.
“I said sure… where is it?”
Once Kohn had located Wales’ training base, he was met with the task of settling into a established squad days out from a Six Nations opener.
Thankfully, a fellow lock forward had an inventive way of making the Harlequins lock feel at home.
“It’s like the first day at school,” Kohn adds. “Getting to know everyone but they all made me feel welcome.
“The first morning I woke up, opened the door and someone had bought a cheap pack of sausages and wrote ‘I love you’ with them outside my door. I’m certain that was Ian Evans.
“Immediately I felt at home. They’re all really good guys.”
That didn’t stop Kohn getting himself mixed up in the wrong training group during one of Wales’ arduous fitness sessions.
“It was horrific. I remember doing fitness and that’s something I don’t enjoy as you can imagine. It was the end of a tough day.
“They blew the whistle and said to get into groups and I was there with Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.
“Three physical freaks and me doing shuttles. I didn’t want to let the boys down so I had to empty the tank. My worst nightmare!”
THE BIG DAY
As for the game itself, Kohn only got onto the pitch for less than eight minutes as Wales battled in vain to comeback from a 30-3 deficit to Ireland.
The day may have ended in defeat, but for Kohn, it was an incredible experience.
“It was amazing. One thing that stuck out to me was getting on the coach and driving from the Vale to the stadium was incredible. Driving through villages and seeing old grannies come out and wave their flags was surreal. I’ll never forget that.
“The game was a bit of a blut. I only played eight minutes. My mates try and knock it down to five minutes but it was eight minutes. A strong eight minutes as well!
“It was an amazing day for me and the family. What was nice was that there were injuries and I knew that. It felt like less pressure. I was coming to the end of my career and there was nothing to lose so I could just go out and play.
“Even though it was a Six Nations match, I felt I could just go out there.”
Despite losing that opening match against Ireland, Wales would go on to win the Six Nations that year – with a 30-3 thrashing of England in Cardiff the culmination of a successful campaign.
Unfortunately, Kohn was no longer in camp by that point. He had torn his hamstring in the team-run before Wales’ second game against France. His first cap would ultimately be his last.
“My only regret is that I didn’t play the whole campaign. It was my last season of rugby so I was glad to do that before I retired.
“I had a great experience and loved it. I was really chuffed to be a part of something special – even if it was a small part.
“Deep down, I knew my Six Nations was over at that point. I tried to get back but I couldn’t. It was gutting.
“I probably knew it was the end of my Wales career as a whole. Realistically that was my chance and I knew I was in for injuries. I felt lucky to be there in someways.
“I wasn’t panicking that my Wales career was over because I didn’t expect to have one.
“Looking back, I’m chuffed with what I achieved in my career – I won the Premiership and the Amlin Challenge Cup with Quins – but it would have been great had the call come sooner in my career.”
His brief dalliance with the Wales national team exposed Kohn to one of rugby’s biggest characters.
“Shaun Edwards…” recalls Kohn. “Absolute nutjob.
“But I really enjoyed that. I’d heard he was an absolute nutter.
“I saw him shadow boxing in the gym. I was involved in some of his mental defence sessions.”
But then, Kohn has experience with some of the larger than life figures to have graced the sport in recent times.
The standout one at Harlequins was Joe Marler.
Kohn has plenty of tales about the former England prop – who credits the second-row for setting him on the straight and narrow after his run-in with Samson Lee by calling him a “d**k”.
“Well, he was a d**k!” he jokes.
“We’ve always got on really well. He’s not just a great player, but a great guy.”
Marler is also responsible for maintaining Kohn’s nickname – one that the 38-year-old isn’t overly keen on.
The credit doesn’t belong to Marler however – the man behind it is current Dragons coach Ceri Jones – but the mohican-bearing front-rower made sure it stuck.
What is the nickname in question?
“Fisherman’s friend,” explains Kohn.
“Marler took that one on. I’ve got a reputation for being friendly. It’s a sh*t nickname – reallly sh*t. I’ve got loads of nicknames – some which can’t be printed – but that one stuck.”
A BRIGHT NEW FUTURE
Months after his solitary Wales cap, Kohn was forced into retirement through a shoulder injury. He could have had surgery, but was told it would be like “moving deckchairs on the Titanic” at that point.
Retirement is never easy – Kohn admits it still hit him incredibly hard – but he was at least prepared in someway for what would happen afterwards.
His wife had bought him a sausage maker as a present back in 2008. That present would open up a number of opportunities and still takes pride of place in his restaurant.
“A load of players sit around drinking coffee all day saying let’s open a coffee shop and never do,” explains Kohn. “I was keen to get my teeth stuck into something.”
So he did. Along with younger brother Josh, they founded Jolly Hog – a sausage-making company bearing parts of both their first names – Josh and Olly.
Middle brother Max became involved to help with the finances and it took off.
Public endorsements from two high-profile and very different individuals helped its rapid ascendancy.
The first came in the form of world-renowned chef Michel Roux.
“When I was at Quins we just learned by watching videos on Youtube,” recalls Kohn. “I met Michel Roux through Harlequins and some of the boys said you should give him some sausages. He’s a Michelin star chef – that’s just embarrassing.
“So I went to his Michelin star restaurant Le Gavroche in London straight after training. I’m walking through this famous, plush restaurant in my kit with some sausages in a plastic bag. I handed them over and scuttled out embarrassingly.
“The next day, my brother texts me saying get the TV on. It’s Michel Roux talking about his favourite sausages for national sausage week and he said Jolly Hog. After that point, the phone was off the hook!”
The second endorsement didn’t quite go so well. That came from Kohn’s old friend Marler.
“That was a ridiculous thing that helped us. He was about 18 at the time and, ahead of the Big Game at Twickenham in front of 80,000, he had the idea of shaving ‘Jolly Hog Sausage’ into his hair.
“I was like ‘mate, are you sure?! You’ll have to play f**king well otherwise this will be embarrassing for all of us’. Anyway, he didn’t tell any of us whether he was going to do it or not.
“On the day, he wore a beanie then warmed up in a scrum-cap. Just before kick-off, he whipped the scrum-cap off and there it was.
“Within 15 minutes though, we clashed heads and split his head open so he was bandaged up for the rest of the match so no one really saw it!”
Despite that slight advertising setback, the business has gone from strength to strength.
They now have three separate business. A retailers supplying the likes of Sainsbury’s and Ocado, a pop-up kitchen business and PIGSTY – the two restaurants they have in Bristol. Their product has been sold everywhere from the Glastonbury Festvial to the Cheltenham races.
It’s impressive stuff to go along with the estate agents Kohn is involved with alongside former Scarlets centre Rob Higgitt and another ex-player Daniel Gray. Throw in the trip to Japan this year with the disciplinary work on the World Cup and Kohn’s future looks set.
“For me, it’s about growing what we’ve got sustainably – it’s a couple of really good, different businesses. Ultimately, it’s a small family business but we’re ambitious.
If his post-rugby ventures continue to grow at the rate they have done, it won’t be long before someone wants to dig Kohn out of the woodwork again.
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