Small Town Boy, Big City Dreams! Meet Taariq Kruger

Kruger hails from Kimberley; after matriculating from Durban High School, he moved down to the cape to be an Ikey Tiger! It was a tough decision between Maties and UCT but Jono Field’s influence managed to convince him to join the club. We are glad you are here!

1. How old were you when you started playing rugby?

I was 13 years old when I started playing rugby. I played hockey, cricket and soccer. One day in primary school the rugby coach came up to me and said “you’re quite big for your age” and the next week I joined the rugby team!

2. What was your first rugby memory?

My first rugby memory would be the first time I went to rugby training. My parents fetched me and I said, “I need some sugar in my body”. We stopped at the OK on the way home and I got a bar-one and my parents said “listen, you need to make a decision.” And from then on, I decided that rugby would be my sport!

3. Who is your role model and why?

I don’t think I have a role model, I like to set my own standards. At the end of the day, you set yourself out to be like them but then you fail. So, I rather like to set personal goals and then achieve them.

4. Can you remember your first training session at UCT?

It was the Hermanus Camp, it was quite tough, nothing like school boy rugby. They throw you in the deep end! I had to adapt to this lifestyle; very quickly.  

5. What do you eat before a big match?

It depends where we are playing, if we play at the Green Mile, I have an egg and mayo sandwich, three samoosas and the muffins the club provide. It’s cheap and quality, you know. I’m getting my carbs, protein and even my veggies.

6. Describe your perfect weekend.

My perfect weekend is the Sunday after a tough match on Saturday. My body is usually extremely sore on the Sunday, so I can just sleep and relax the whole day. I also don’t have to do anything around the house because I have a good excuse. It’s weird, I really like the pain, it almost like the fruits of my labour.

7. What’s a typical day of a Varsity Cup rugby player (during season)?

I wake up at 8am, have breakfast and then straight to campus for lectures. I then go back to Res (Kapano) for lunch and to work. At about 4:30pm I start making my way to the Green Mile to warm up and train.

8. What motivates you to achieve your goals?

The fact that I know that I can do something, without being a financial burden to my parents. If I succeed, I have the chance to get a scholarship. I am very independent and I want to take the stress and pressure off of them as well.

9. What’s the next goal in your rugby career?

Short term: Training to make WP U19 team next year.
Long term: I plan on making it, and playing up to the age of 26 so I can enjoy the rest of my life; without too many injuries!

10. What are your hobbies aside from rugby?

Having alone time and chilling by myself or going to the gym. I recently went through a transition with regards to my religion. I never used to take my religion seriously, but now I enjoy praying and actually see it as a hobby; praying five times a day and abiding by the rules of Islam.

What’s happening in KZN? – Q&A with Liam Furniss

  1. Remind me what you studying – how’s it going – how has the move to online changed your work ethic?
    I am studying my honours in English Literature; and enjoying it. The move to online hasn’t really been too much of a problem; it is a lot of self-reading and it’s just a matter of doing it. We do one Zoom session a week; so it isn’t too bad and of all the degrees; mine is kind of easy to do online.
  2. How are you keeping rugby alive in your life during this “forced downtime” ?
    It’s been weird, especially because this is my last year and then my UCT career is over – it is pretty strange after 5 years. I don’t have any regrets, it has been nice to be away for a little bit, but I am definitely missing it a lot. But getting the motivation to train definitely isn’t as easy as it would be with the guys around.
  3. What advice would you give a young guy entering the club in 2021?
    The rugby club is the type of environment where you can really do so much more than just play rugby, you can really get so involved. I’d say, speak to the older guys, speak to Alum; there is so much to be gained from these guys. At the same time, if you don’t get involved, you can easily just leave with a couple of years of good rugby. I would say get involved in everything you can; on and off the field. UCT is so special, in that off the field; it is so much more than just rugby; there is so much to be learnt about yourself. From an academic point of view, I think a large part of the process is figuring the whole academic side of things for yourself.  You need to find something that you love. Don’t be afraid to change it up as you go along, and I think it is important to know that.
  4. How do you think you have evolved from a school boy rugby player to an Ikey Tiger – what do you think the main differences are?
    The set-up is a semi-professional environment, you train hard at school but when you enter UCT, you start playing real rugby and it is intense. It is a serious level up from the school set; from both a professional point of view and the rugby club in general. We really do have the best coaches in SA and I think it is important to be able to acknowledge and respect that. At school, a lot of the guys are playing with something further in mind, it often takes away from the actual game but at varsity it is professional in and of itself. Just to be able to play in these structures that the coaches set up for you, it is something else.
  5. How do you rate the strength of the Ikey Tigers 1st team rugby team?
    I think this has been one the best sides we have had, I have been involved for 5 years now, between this side and the 2018 side, it is close one. This year in terms of cohesion; I haven’t played in a side like this; the vibe from the first day of pre-season was phenomenal, everyone had the same mindset. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were a serious challenge to the tournament. In terms of the strengths of players, it is the best side and team environment that I have been involved in at my time at UCT.
  6. How do you think the change of the head coach made an impact in the team?
    Yes, I think that is difficult one, you can’t take away from the hard work that Essie put in. Say what you want, I always had a good relationship with Essie, I think he is a very good rugby coach. But at the same time I think him and Tom have very different approaches to the game and working together they get the most out of the rugby club. I think Tom was able to tap into Essie’s existing structures and harvest the best we had.
  7. What do you think makes the Ikey Tigers unique?
    I think what makes UCT unique is understanding that it is an incredibly professional environment but at the same time not everyone is trying to play professional rugby. This is different at other universities, at UCT you have the serious professionalism but you also have the guys who don’t want to take their rugby further; however are willing to give everything to the game. It makes a difference; I don’t think something like this exists anywhere else.
  8. Three dream dinner guests – who would you invite and why?
    1. Desmond Tutu: I just love Tutu, I think he has an incredible sense of humour and he has done so much for this country and the world. I just think he is really cool.
    2. Peter Anderson: Without a doubt the most intelligent man I have ever met in my life.
    3. Grandpa Furniss: Second most intelligent man I have ever met in my life.

Q&A with Ruben Labuschagne – Catch Up with a Cub

  1. Remind me what you studying – how’s it going – how has the move to online changed your work ethic?

    I am studying a BSci in Property Studies. So far it has been good, and I have passed all my subjects. Initially, the transition from in-person university to online learning was quite good; but then I started to get a bit over it and slacked a bit. But it all sorted itself out and exams went well.
  2. How are you keeping rugby alive in your life during this “forced downtime” ?
    I bought a training programme with Steve Mac (conditioning coach) and I am training quite well. I also bought some equipment and I have been training quite lekker. I am part of a touchies team and I have been watching some Super Rugby, so from a rugby point of view, it is actually going quite well.
  3. What advice would you give a young guy entering the club in 2021?
    First of all, I would advise him to come in with an open mind, to come and learn; not only as a rugby player but as a person in general. There is a huge diversity of people in the club and you can learn so much from different people.
  4. How do you think you have evolved from a school boy rugby player to an Ikey Tiger?
    I was in Stellenbosch (Paul Roos) for 5 years so I wanted something different, and I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone. To be honest, I think in this year’s short season, the coaches gave us a lot of a freedom to play; whereas in matric we were told exactly what to do. The relationships fostered between the coaches and players in the UCT set up is completely unique. These relationships have given me confidence both on and off the field.
  5. Although you only had a short stint at the club before Covid-19 restrictions – what are some of the things you can pinpoint that are unique?
    Definitely the vibe at the club, I have never felt something like this before. Just the love everyone has for each other makes the club unique in itself. When we were in Bloem [on tour], when we were singing afterwards, it is really amazing and unifying experience. I honestly don’t think that I could get this feeling anywhere else.
  6. Three dream dinner guests – who would you invite and why?
    Siya Kolisi – because he inspires me, especially where he comes from; just to speak to him and just get his perspective on where he comes from to where he is now.
    Warren Buffet: I am interested in the business side of things, and I would be interested to hear his advice.
    Angus Buchan: My religion is the most important thing in my life, and he is a mentor and he someone I look up to. I think I would just to have a chat about life and everything else.

Catch up with Club Director Johnny Biderman-Pam

Where are we headed? – UCT Rugby and the future. We sit down with JBP to explore what’s been happening in these extraordinary times and how the Ikey spirit is being kept alive. 

Our social media intern, Jamie,  sits down with Johnny Biderman-Pam (JBP), of course over Zoom, a new norm that we have become comfortable with over the last three months. Our tech-savvy director, JBP, is quickly becoming a pro at all things Zoom.

Jamie asks: With the Cape winter rains setting in and no rugby on the horizon what is keeping you busy and close to The Green Mile?

JBP replies: These last few months have flown past and ironically have been a busy period of activity for the club. From the disappointment of not completing Varsity Cup or even commencing playing in the WP Super League A (old Grand Challenge) leagues, we have taken on the many challenges with one credo in mind. “HOW CAN WE ALL IMPROVE IN WHATEVER WE DO TO ENSURE SUCCESS IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?”

My role has been assisting our efficient, committed executive and all related support staff to ensure that all personnel and players achieve what we initially set out to do, despite the crisis we find ourselves in. Our recruitment staff have been particularly busy scouting and engaging with future-players; check out the online application if you are interested.

I can honestly report that every one of these departments have given their all and I can’t wait to put all the planning and strategies into practice.

I must admit, when I have serious separation anxiety, I walk on the Table Mountain contour path and gaze down at a luscious Green Mile some 500 metres below. There is a feeling of our home begging for us to return. It is so healing to see it there waiting for us. So near and yet so far. But hopefully we will be back soon.

Caption: Pre-season training earlier this year on The Green Mile
Source: Matthew Begg
Pre-season training earlier this year on The Green Mile
Source: Matthew Begg

Jamie asks: What are you missing the most?

JBP replies: I think it is easier to ask – what am I not missing? And of course, the answer to that would be a big zero.

The club now operates fully around the calendar year but not one day is the same as another. It is a whirlwind of activity where young students charge the space with their dynamism, youth and excitement. This is backed up and furthered by our trained and player-centered coaches, managers, physios and medical staff that would make any club green with envy.

I miss the Monday Varsity Cup nights where we get phenomenal support from our student body, the Wednesday evening game analysis meetings where our coaches present with maturity and insight far beyond their years and, of course, I miss those winter Saturday afternoons where five or more teams play against our local community clubs. It is always a privilege to visit clubs whom are operating in very difficult circumstances but are always so receptive and warm to UCT. While intervarsity is no longer what is was up to the eighties, we are now fortunate to play in two intervarsity’s against UWC and the Maties. There is always an edge to these fixtures. It feels strange that we haven’t experienced this for a while. While we cannot solely blame it on Covid; we could say that climate change has dried up the Saturday afternoon Cape Town rains.  So it is rare to see wings’ fingers and toes with frost bite while their less glamorous forwards tussle in the mud reliving their childhood.

But what I miss the most are training nights; to walk on the Mile in the setting sun watching 250 players working hard, laughing, training and preparing is a site to behold as so many ex Ikeys will remember. In the background is the din of traffic passing, headlights creating parallel lines of bright yellow. The ever-present hum reminds us that our students only have a flitter of time to experience this nirvana before they too, will join the army of the work force heading home after a tough, tiring day at the office.

And of course I also miss the Ikey Pub and Grind, home like none other.

[Left to right: Rayno Mapoe, Zahir Baker (consultant) & Kwezi Puza]
Source: Supplied
[Left to right: Tristan Mouton, Liam Greenhalgh (Captain), JBP & Tank Lanning (Coach)]
Source: Supplied

Jamie asks: What can Ikey supporters look forward to in a post-Covid world?

JBP: Producing sometimes audacious and high-risk winning rugby has always been associated with our club. In the modern era with the advent of Varsity Cup, we have had to be more circumspect in our approach. For the past 140 years, UCT (or “Varsity”) has been entertaining crowds all over the world. Like 99% of sports clubs, there have been outstanding teams and seasons, as well as times when through a myriad of post season analyses, our teams have just not clicked into gear.

With our ethos still about the development of the player and freedom they are encouraged to express on and off the field, I believe the club has an exciting future. The World Cup gave the game a shot in the arm and crowds at Varsity Cup matches went up exponentially. We competed with the best and expect our form to improve moving into the 2021 season. Jamie, I think it is important to remember that our top teams cannot feature if we don’t have strong lower teams. Luckily, we have this in abundance and in 2019 there were only a few losses that our Eagles, Babrows, Bears and Women’s Swift squads endured.

But it is not only about results on the rugby field. We like to see ourselves as a “Stanford University” of Africa. Thus, over the years – the academic standards achieved by our players is something that we can all be so proud of. It is no secret that many of our Ikeys find fantastic starts to their careers throughout the world after graduation. With distance online learning being the mode of tertiary education this year, we hope and have no doubt to continue our academic successes in this novel and evolving learning style.

My deep interest is mental health and psychological wellness. We are aware of the losses, tragedies, stresses and subsequent pain most students go through. Depression and anxiety can manifest in the most balanced of students. Until recently, mental health issues have been a taboo topic to acknowledge and silenced due to social pressures.  We at UCT Rugby have taken a strong proactive approach in supporting our players and staff through their mental health issues employing both internal and external programmes. We are totally committed to developing strong psychologically and physically healthy players. We strive to create an environment where all our members feel safe and happy.

Jamie asks: Finally, what concerns do you have around the future of the club?

JBP: Jamie, this is a difficult one. The volume of players deciding to hang up their boots after the highs of school rugby is increasing at an alarming rate. Adding to this, our Under 20s (Young Guns) have become so strong and filled with joy that ironically, many of our players choose not to continue with what has become a brutal and highly competitive game at senior level. This seems to be a trend amongst most clubs in the country. Our internal league does cater for our more social players and Wednesday nights under lights is always an awesome experience. So many of our players are not completely lost to the professional style rugby we create at a senior level and are still able to enjoy the wonderful game. As a result, the disparity between the expectations of Varsity Cup and the rest of the club is also widening in both quality and additional time required to achieve our goals. At times it feels like we are running two clubs in tandem.

All in all, however, the Ikeys are made of stern stuff and we believe we will overcome whatever is thrown at us including the biting cold south-easters during Varsity Cup and the gale force north-westers during league.

For previous chats, watch head-coach Tom Dawson-Squibb and Shimmy’s interview discussing this year’s Varsity Cup season.