As is tradition, no rugby season can kick off without the Ikey Tiger blazer and tie handover ceremony. Held in Smuts Hall, and overlooking the Green Mile, FNB Ikey Tigers, past and present, attended the event on the 4th of February to lay the platform for the 2016 rugby season
The Charles Vanrenen Scholarship was set up in memory of Charlie who tragically lost his life in Bali in 2002.
Don Armand was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and schooled at Maritzburg College in Natal. Although best known as loose forward, he can comfortably slot into the second row.
Don represented the Ikeys from 2008 and was part of the 2011 Varsity Cup winning team wearing the number six jersey on that memorable day.
He made his Western Province debut in March 2012 in a 51-22 thrashing of the Boland Cavaliers and was part of the 2012 Western Province Currie Cup winning side, starting in the final against the Natal Sharks in Durban. A Western Province side that included fellow Ikeys, Damian de Allende, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Eben Etzebeth and Marcelle Brache.
Due to injuries sustained by loose-forwards; Duane Vermeulen and Nick Köster on the Stormers 2012 Australasian tour, Don received a call-up to the squad for the final tour game against the Western Force. The match ended in a 17-3 Stormers victory. He made his Super Rugby debut as a 75th minute replacement for former Ikey teammate Nizaam Carr.
In July 2013 he joined English Aviva Premiership side Exeter Chiefs. Don has started the majority of matches this season, despite the competition for places in the team from experienced players such as Thomas Waldrom and Julian Salvi. Don has starred for the Exeter Chiefs in a number of matches and scored two tries in their 41-3 victory over the Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership. The Exeter Chiefs are a club on the rise under head coach Rob Baxter and at the end of 2015 were lying in second place just behind Saracens in the Aviva Premiership.
Don’s rugby career to date is something of a classic case of a young man who had the right schooling and family values to succeed, but when his family had to leave Zimbabwe things were not easy for him. Fortunately, he was the recipient of a bursary from David Vanrenen, a mighty prop in the sixties era at UCTRFC, and the founder and funder of the ‘Charlie Vanrenen Bursary Fund’, established in honour of his son, a fine young man who died in the Bali bomb blast.
Don proved not only a worthy recipient in terms of his burgeoning rugby talent, but a man who exemplified the term ‘IKEY’, encompassing all the inherent values and qualities this implies. The Americans have a term which aptly applies to the ultimate team man; MVP…..Most Valuable Player. That is Don Armand in whichever team he graces.
We catch up with Don……
How are you enjoying life in the United Kingdom?
Loving it here! All I heard before I came was that it was called Mud Island and rained 24/7. Down in Devon it’s been pretty amazing weather wise. Haven’t experienced any snow which leaves me having had more snow encounters in South Africa than I have had here!
Aside from the weather, life is going really well, I have a son called Miles who recently turned 1. And we are expecting another come July! So we have some interesting times to come in 2016!
What does a typical week and match day entail?
A typical week normally consists of 3 days training, then a day off followed by captains run and a game on the Saturday!
Our training days normally start at around 8 am and go till about 2/3pm depending on the day of the week. We gym Mondays and Wednesdays with an optional slot on a Tuesday morning! My days off are daddy day-care days normally which can be like a training session on their own! Captains runs are short and sharp which end around midday and start at 10 which give good time to relax before the match!
Match days at home are awesome, usually get to chill in the mornings and arrive around 2 hours before kick-off…after the match we get dressed into our club suits and go and spend time with family and fans upstairs in the bars!!!
What has been the highlight of your time with The Exeter Chiefs?
Well there have been quite a few highlights. Amongst the top would be getting initiated two days after arriving at the club, before even participating in a training session!
Another would be being part of the LV cup final win which was a pretty important occasion for the club. This was followed by an open bus tour through the city where we ended off meeting the Lord Mayor of Exeter!
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to play rugby professionally in the United Kingdom?
Hmmm…not to be scared to go out of your comfort zone. Moving country is a really big change and can sometimes stop people from doing it. So don’t be scared to take any opportunity you get to play here. Once you are here I would say don’t be scared of hard work, especially if you find yourself not where you want to be selection wise, your time will come.
It is also important to make sure you can play happily in the environment if you are in. The last thing you need is to find yourself not enjoying a sport which you have always loved to play. Oh, and don’t go too far north, it gets cold up there!
Do you follow the UCT Ikey Tigers and the Club?
Of course I do!! Once an Ikey, always a Tiger!!!!
What do you miss most about UCT rugby?
I have found myself pretty fortunate to be in a team where there is a lot of emphasis on enjoying what you do with the guys you are doing it with, and that to me was a big part of what UCT rugby was about. But I do miss a freezing cold breeze howling down the green mile whipping rain into your face while you are trying to play a bit of running rugby!! And the greatest memories I have were the after match fines sessions that saw guys like Marcel Brache, Nic Groom and Danger (Dayne Jans) make up some incredible fines songs for every individual in the team. To me the value they added in making everyone in that team feel part of something special is something I will never forget.
An introduction by Gavin Fernie (64’- 65’) to a special young lad from Uitenhage who went on to coach at the highest level of professional rugby.
Alan Solomons; ‘Solly’ to those who get to know him, personifies the commitment and passion a modern rugby coach needs to survive the rigours of guiding the on the field play of a professional rugby franchise, and dealing with all the off the field drama which trails along like a flock of egrets attached to a bull elephant. Solly would say that he has a few ‘egrets’, bad pun intended, but no real regrets. Solly is reputed to have once retorted when asked what galvanized his life; ‘Law is my profession; rugby is my passion.’ Nuff said!
Gavin Fernie (64’- 65’)
Alan writes to us from Scotland and shares his experiences as the current head coach of Edinburgh Rugby Club. He titles his message:
My Edinburgh Rugby Experience
When I was invited to take over the head coach position at Edinburgh Rugby, I was told that it was “a basket case”
and that my job would be to rebuild the club. In the season before my arrival, Edinburgh had failed to win a game in the European Championship (formerly The Heineken Cup) and finished 2nd bottom of the Pro 12.
I arrived in Edinburgh in mid-August, 2013, almost immediately after an arduous, but successful debutant S15 season with The Kings. Consequently, I played no part in recruitment and missed the bulk of the pre-season.
What I discovered shortly after my arrival was a poorly conditioned squad which contained a lot of dead wood. There was little system & structure and, as may be expected, the squad was devoid of confidence.
I formulated a vision for the club which is, in essence, to build a sustainable club through young, indigenous and Scottish qualified talent. This ties in with the budgetary constraints under which we operate and is also beneficial for the National team and Scottish rugby in general.
Before bringing in young Scottish talent I had to get the club back on an even keel. To do that, I introduced system & structure and laid an emphasis on defence & set piece to give us a platform from which to build. In my 2nd year, I dealt with the conditioning problem in our pre-season (it was brutal!). I also brought in some players to shore things up. Although it was tough we saw improvement, finishing the season 8th in the Pro 12 and winning three of our six European games, with good wins over powerful Munster & Gloucester teams.
At the end of the season, 23 players were cut from the squad and we started bringing in youngsters and improving the strength in depth of the squad. We continued to build in my 2nd season, making the European Challenge Cup final (1st Scottish team to play in a European Final) and winning the 1872 Cup derby against our rivals Glasgow Warriors for the first time in 6 years.
The squad was further improved this season and at the time of writing we are 4th on the Pro 12 log, having just beaten Glasgow in both Pro 12 and 1872 Cup derby matches for the first time in 11 years. We are also still in contention for a European Challenge Cup play off.
In addition, we have developed an excellent group of Scottish youngsters, 3 of whom (Sam Hildago- Clyne, Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson) have already represented the National Team.
Our SA boykies are all doing well. WP Nel played brilliantly in the World Cup and Cornell du Preez, Anton Bresler, Allan Dell and Andries Strauss are all making huge contributions to the success of the team.
Our recent back to back wins over Glasgow Warriors have seen us take a huge step forward and, having just signed an extension to my contract, I am looking forward to building on the progress made to date.
On a personal note, Mary & I are loving our time in Scotland. It is a beautiful country and the people are terrific. What adds to the enjoyment is that I am working with a great bunch of players (our team spirit is amazing) and coaches.