Josh Navidi: Welsh rugby is a shambles. Players have been offered £30,000 deals

Josh Navidi - Josh Navidi: Welsh rugby is a shambles. Players have been offered £30,000 deals - Jay Williams for the Telegraph
Josh Navidi - Josh Navidi: Welsh rugby is a shambles. Players have been offered £30,000 deals - Jay Williams for the Telegraph

Retirement has opened up a world of possibilities for Josh Navidi from DJ sets to his burgeoning car dealership and, perhaps most intriguingly, coaching in Iran.

Against a backdrop of slashed budgets and near civil war in Wales, Navidi says that he “got out of rugby at the right time”, which may be reflected by the fact that his long-term international team-mates Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb, have also bowed out in recent weeks.

Navidi’s choice, however, was made for him when a specialist told him earlier this year that he could not play again after originally compressing a nerve in his neck in the third Test against South Africa last July.

His tally of 33 international caps does scant justice to how effective he was in the back row as a “glue” player who automatically made everyone else perform better. Pound for pound, few hit harder than Navidi, who accomplished all the goals he set himself of playing in a World Cup, winning silverware with Cardiff Blues and touring with the British and Irish Lions.

“I was driving home when the specialist called and I had maybe 20-30 seconds to myself in the car,” Navidi says. “I just thought I am never going to step out on the field again and play with the boys.

“That’s a hard thing to deal with, but I know in my heart that I hadn’t left any stone unturned in my career. My dad always said to me every game could be your last and that’s how I have always played.”

His father is Hedy, who fled Iran during the 1979 revolution, moving to London and then Bangor, where he met Navidi’s mother. A former wrestler, who finished fifth in the Bristol Open, he started a small business empire in South Wales which included a shopping centre, a hair salon and a gym where Josh worked from the age of 10.

“We had to close it down last year and in some ways I felt more sad with that closing than finishing my career,” Navidi says. “I have so many memories of that place, I literally spent half my childhood there.”

Josh Navidi playing for Wales - Josh Navidi: Welsh rugby is a shambles. Players have been offered £30,000 deals - Getty Images/Paul Jenkins
Josh Navidi playing for Wales - Josh Navidi: Welsh rugby is a shambles. Players have been offered £30,000 deals - Getty Images/Paul Jenkins

It was Hedy who put Navidi on the path to becoming a rugby professional, first by making him watch Jonah Lomu trample over some poor Englishmen before sitting him down with the late rugby icon at a dinner in Bridgend, which led indirectly to Navidi moving to New Zealand to further his education in the game.

Navidi planned to visit Iran before Covid hit. The political unrest sparked by the death of a woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the morality police last September has not made it any easier to visit as a travel destination. Navidi, however, is determined to explore his family roots in Tabriz, a city in the north west of the country close to Azerbaijan.

The 32-year-old also hopes to offer his expertise to the national team and believes there is plenty of untapped potential. “Sevens is pretty big and XVs is slowly growing,” Navidi says.

“The genetics of the Iranian people are perfect for rugby. If you think the main sports are weightlifting and wrestling. They also love football and volleyball so you have that skill element too. That concoction of genetics and all the different sports they play, I think they could be a very good side one day if it keeps growing.

“I have spoken to a couple of people in the past about getting involved. If I go I think I have to do national service so I am looking at getting a visa where I can go and coach and just see what they are doing. I would love to go out and see where my dad’s from and maybe see if I can get involved.”

Overwhelmed by outpouring of affection

His day-to-day focus is with his car dealership, Cute Club, in Cardiff. Navidi feels extremely fortunate to have had an alternative job to fall back on at a time when many of his former team-mates have been left with nowhere to turn after a severe round of belt-tightening in Welsh rugby.

“The last year has been a shambles really,” Navidi says. “Everyone says you have got out at the best time. It is a shame because I never wanted to play rugby for money but money is a reality you can’t escape if you have a mortgage to pay for and a family to feed.

“A couple of boys I know have been offered £30,000 deals. Now there will be a few people who say that’s not a bad wage. In a normal job it would probably be OK. But this is a job where you don’t know when your last game is going to be, there’s no pathway afterwards and you can be left with permanent damage to your body.”

Navidi considers himself relatively unscathed, even if he notices the nerve issue flare up when he tries to lift heavy weights. The incident that did the damage was something of nothing. Navidi came into the starting XV with only a few minutes’ notice for the third Test in after Taulupe Faletau pulled out in the warm-up. He wanted to make an impact with his first tackle only to suffer what he thought was a stinger. He played on but the sensation got worse with every tackle to the point where he “was not making a normal tackle, I was grabbing them and trying to pull them to deck”.

Recovery had no end point because of the nature of damaged nerves. Psychologically he had prepared himself for retirement. What caught him by surprise was the outpouring of affection when he made the announcement.

“It is overwhelming when you read all the comments,” Navidi says. “You don’t realise the amount of people you meet over the years where those little moments mean a lot.

“All I hope I am remembered for is being someone who left everything on the pitch and made time for supporters afterwards.”