Meet Josh Navidi: the Welsh son of an Iranian wrestler who is turning heads

Josh Navidi might have been collecting autographs, or Tana Umaga’s autograph anyway, at the time, but at least he knows what European success for Cardiff Blues looks like.

He was a spectator in Marseilles in 2010 when the Blues defeated Toulon to win the Amlin Challenge Cup, the only time a Welsh side has ever won European silverware.

Navidi had actually made his first-team debut that season, but it was his first year in the region’s academy, with Martyn Williams still the Blues’ open-side flanker, and Sam Warburton behind him. Wales’s plethora of open-sides is clearly not a new thing.

Navidi accepted the invitation to travel with the team and stay at their hotel. “It was amazing,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve been involved in since I’ve been at the Blues.”

That says much about the subsequent lean years for the Blues, but not that Navidi is to blame in any way. He has always been a marvellously consistent performer. And now he is enjoying the season of his life.

Before it he had won only three caps for Wales. One in 2013 and two last summer, all while the British & Irish Lions were playing.

Now, at 27, he has 11 caps. New Zealand, England and everyone else he has faced this season have encountered his relentless physicality around the field, maniacal competitiveness at the breakdown and even a carrying game that was not always conspicuous previously.

Only the Scarlets’ Aaron Shingler can claim to have matched his excellence for both region and country. Navidi has simply been magnificent.

And, despite Danny Wilson long ago having announced his impending departure as head coach (Australian John Mulvihill arrives next season), things are beginning to look up at the Blues, with a Champions Cup place next season already assured and a home semi-final against Pau today in the Challenge Cup.

“It’s nice to have the chance to get to one of those finals myself now,” says Navidi.

And his autograph will be sought this time rather than his seeking the dreadlocked All Black Umaga’s. “Paul Tito [Cardiff’s Kiwi lock] sorted that out for me,” Navidi says with a laugh.

The reason is obvious because dreadlocks and New Zealand are two significant threads in Navidi’s wonderfully rich and varied story.

But first the name. Navidi was born in Bridgend, but his father, Hedy, is Iranian.

At the age of 18 Hedy came to Bangor University to study civil engineering. While there he met Euros, a Welsh-speaking lady from Anglesey, and they married. Josh has an elder brother, Sam.

Josh has yet to go to Iran. He wanted to go as an 18-year-old but worried about being called for national service.

“I have got a British passport but because of the surname sometimes it flags up,” he says. “Hopefully next year I will head over there and experience where my dad is from.”

Speaking to Warburton recently he reckoned Navidi to be not only one of the most physical players around, but also one of the most durable. Remarkably in this day and age, Navidi has had only one operation, to realign his nose after that Test debut in 2013.

Maybe he gets that robustness from his father. Hedy was a wrestler.

“He wrestled from a young age,” says Josh. “Even now he is a bloody work horse. He just goes all day. Hopefully he has taken all the battering and I have just got the genes off him.

“He coached the Welsh national team and also did a bit with the British national team but he packed it in when my brother was born.

“I have done a bit of wrestling with him. It’s probably the hardest training I have ever done.”

As hard as having dreadlocks done?

“It was a bit painful,” he admits. “I have had them since I was 15. One day I was looking on the internet on how to do them and my mum, who is a hairdresser [working now at one of Navidi’s brother’s two salons in Bridgend], said, ‘Shall we just do it?’ We sat down and it took four hours. They have stuck ever since.”

Only after surfing has really regretted that.

“I used to get out of the sea and it was cold and it would take all day for them to dry,” he says. “Now I’ve got a hairdresser’s hairdryer in the house and it only takes ten minutes.”

That is some image to conjure up. But then Navidi obviously doesn’t mind doing things differently.

That is where New Zealand comes in too. Immediately upon finishing his GCSEs at the famous rugby nursery of Brynteg School in Bridgend (JPR Williams, Rob Howley, Rhys Webb and Gavin Henson count among its many internationals), Navidi headed there.

“Jonah Lomu did a Q&A over here when I was about ten years old,” recalls Navidi. “My dad asked him where the best place was to go in New Zealand and he said Christchurch. About five years later my dad said, ‘Do you still want to go?’ About three months later I ended up at St Bede’s College.”

There he spent two years. In the first year he was only in the third team.

“It was May-June time when I got there and their season starts in January,” he explains. “Obviously they didn’t know who I was. You’d think that the third team might be a bit mickey-mouse but it wasn’t.”

In his second year Navidi unsurprisingly made the first team. “We won the Christchurch competition, then won the South Island competition and went up to play in the national Top Four, where we lost to Hamilton Boys’ (High School),” says Navidi.

Given that experience it would be no surprise were Navidi to travel again one day for his rugby. “I’ve always said I would like to go to France,” he says. “I travelled round in a camper van a couple of years ago. It is a beautiful country. I have got one more year on my contract so we will see what happens.”

A lot can happen in a year, as Navidi has just so readily proved.

Credit: The Times, 21/04/2018 –