In the days before the Rinderpest, the week before Christmas was the middle of the long university vac – otherwise known as “the offseason” – when only the most dedicated were in any sort of training. Nowadays, training has been in full swing for almost two months and the excitement of the build up to Varsity Cup 2016 is palpable.
World Universities Champions
The undoubted highlight of 2015 was the Ikey Tigers being crowned first ever World Universities Rugby Champions!
More than that the tour itself will be a highlight of many of our players’ rugby lives. To meet and make rugby friends from similar institutions (genuine amateur student clubs), to benchmark ourselves against clubs from around the world, and to win, was a joy and an affirmation of the work put in by all involved. It showed the strength in depth of South African rugby at a time when the results and playing style of the Springboks and our Super Rugby teams have invoked more despair than joy. The Tigers not only won the tournament but also won many admirers with their positive, adventurous, skilful play and their humble conduct off the field – we could not have hoped for better ambassadors for South Africa, UCT and our club. A more sobering observation was that we found more kinship with our international peers than we often do in the cut throat professional world of our domestic competitions.
Varsity Cup 2015
Our Varsity Cup defence was unfortunately unsuccessful but a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Shimlas was no disgrace and our campaign included a wonderful performance away at Pukke (perhaps we should play all our games in Potch!) and the biggest crowd of many years at the Green Mile to watch our exciting draw against traditional rivals Maties.
Our U20s also had their best VC Young Guns campaign ever, narrowly missing out on a semi-final.
Ikey Tigers “spreading the name … of the UCT”
As rugby alumni we had three Ikey World Cup Springboks and more recently two Ikey Blitzbokke at the Cape Town 7s which South Africa won, as well as as many as two full teams of old boys playing high level professional rugby in South Africa, Australia, England, France, Hong Kong, even Spain.
It seems that the club has never been stronger as a breeding ground for elite players. But this is not all we are, nor I might suggest, even our core objective.
A broader framing of success
While developing rugby careers is exciting and rewarding, we may be looking at the wrong thing: of all the professional players mentioned not one is a current UCT student and only a few have successfully graduated from the university. Senior professional rugby is no longer compatible with full time study. At least not at UCT. A limited number of players are able to complete their studies before moving on to full time professional rugby (often from UCT), but the structure of South African rugby forces most to make a choice between rugby and education at a young age.
Our club has always been about more than developing quality rugby players, it is really a vehicle for the development of high quality young men. So we are just as proud of the fact that of the 30 students who played some part in last year’s VC triumph, 28 passed and progressed to the following year of study or graduation (a much higher success ratio than UCT produces on average, which in turn is much higher than the South African average). Somehow instead of having to tell your parents you didn’t pass because of rugby more of our players are able to say they did pass because of rugby.
And we are not only an elite club, but pride ourselves on offering well organised, well coached rugby for everyone from aspirant Springboks to social players. We field 7 teams in the WP club leagues and arrange an active and social internal league. While our 1st XV ultimately finished 4th after a mid-season wobble, all other teams were in the running to win their leagues until the last few games and the mighty 2nd XV Eagles went undefeated to win their league.
The Ikey Vision 150+ Campaign
To sustain this success we need not only more funding, but also the security of long term funding to allow for long term planning. So another feature of this year has been the launch of the Ikey Vision 150+ Campaign, which aims to solicit donations to allow us to build an endowment, which, sensibly invested, will underpin the club’s finances into the future.
We need financial support mainly because, however good we may be at making the most of the talent available to us, recruitment is critical to our continued success. To recruit players with potential we have the great advantage of being able to offer the best university education in South Africa and a rugby experience that we believe is second to none. But as the #feesmustfall movement highlighted, the cost of tertiary education in South Africa, and particularly at UCT, is high. And what most people don’t know is that at many of our competitor university clubs, good schoolboy players are regularly offered the guarantee of full bursaries for the duration of their studies that at UCT would cost R100 000 per year and also the prospect for those who make our Varsity Cup teams, of substantial monthly salaries on top of that. That’s pretty difficult to resist no matter what the allure of UCT may be.
The other reason we need funding is that to develop that talent we require outstanding coaching, medical support and administration. The days of two 2-hour training sessions a week with volunteer coaches are long gone. To compete today requires full time coaches and managers, and a huge amount of time from video analysts, doctors, biokineticists, physios – all of whom have the option of better remunerated alternatives. Kevin Musikanth noted that the squad had, just in the Varsity Cup pre-season from October to February this year, endured 160 training sessions in the gym and on the field. And that’s before the season has started. This is the commitment required to compete and win.
If we are not able to offer bursaries to talented players they will go elsewhere. If we are not able to employ excellent people to develop the talent we can attract we will no longer be able to compete. And that takes more money than we currently have. Much more. Of just as much importance – our first team’s success is a requirement for perpetuating the opportunities for our lower and age group teams.
It may seem like a huge ask but we aim, in the course of our 150+Vision Campaign, to raise R50 million in additional endowment funds (the return on which would be used to fund expenses with the capital invested for the long term and untouchable). Already, through the generosity of a number of donors, including most notably Neville Isdell, we have raised endowment funds and commitments of over R25 million. Raising an additional R50 million seems like a crazy number but becomes more understandable if you consider that this would produce income only enough to fund our existing coaching and support staff and 5 full bursaries to new entrants each year (and commit to this over the course of their studies).
Our future largely rides on our ability to secure these donations.
As you go off on your year end holidays I would like to end with a word of thanks to all those unsung heroes who make the club what it is. To the UCT RFC Committee, especially Phil Kilroe and John le Roux, to Kevin Musikanth, who leaves the club in a stronger position than when he arrived 2 ½ years ago, and to all the other coaches, to Gavin Sheldon and our management, and to all the players who make all of our involvement so rewarding.
This is well illustrated by the final paragraph of the year end report of Digby Webb, the 2015 Club Captain:
My time at the club has come to an end, but I will always be a proud Ikey Tiger. Over the past six years I have met many great people, made some special memories and won many rugby games! One of the major lessons I have learnt from the club is the power of people. We don’t have the best facilities, nor a budget close to that of our competition, yet each year we are extremely competitive. The reason for this is the amazing and special people we have at our club, who give far more than they take. The Club’s guiding principle of “being better people who inspire” is something I will take forward into my life.