Ikey Tigers head coach John Dobson has returned from his coaching sojourn in Italy wiser, but also hungrier for success ahead of the 2010 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International.
Dobson, who has been consulting to top Italian outfit Rugby Roma, has been back at the helm of UCT since late last year and is hoping to make it third time lucky in the Varsity Cup – after losing in the inaugural final in 2008 and going down in the semifinals last year.
“(Robbie Fleck) Fleckie and I always looked at the Varsity Cup as a three-year project,” explained Dobson.
“The first year was obviously a helluva exciting competition for us as we broke new ground in terms of our approach to the game, whereas last year teams were waiting for us and we had to consolidate after losing a few of our key ‘strike men’.
“Still, we’ve had a good pre-season, which began in November last year, and even though I will miss Fleckie a bit – please don’t anyone tell him – I am confident that UCT will be there or thereabouts come this year’s tournament.”
Fleck, of course, made a huge name for himself during last year’s Currie Cup as Western Province’s backline coach. Since then, the former Springbok coach has been snapped up by the Stormers and, as a result, he has been lost to UCT… and the Varsity Cup.
“Jokes aside for once, Fleckie’s departure leaves a big hole for us, but I am very lucky to have someone of Kevin Foote’s quality to step into the breach,” said Dobson.
“Footie is a former SA Sevens captain, Currie Cup player and first team captain at UCT, so he has certainly been around a bit. Aside from Footie, I have also brought in Dave Wessels, who was involved with the Stormers last year and Bodo Sieber – our league captain and a German international – will add great value as the new lineout coach.”
Looking back at his coaching stint in Italy – which saw him help Rugby Roma with their Magners League preparations – Dobson continued: “The plan, for me, was always to come back for the Varsity Cup – it was one of my first conditions when I signed with Roma.
“I enjoyed my first few coaching ‘blocks’ there tremendously. It was great being in a fully-fledged professional environment, especially with so many funds at our disposal, but I also missed the vibe that goes with being involved at a great student institution like UCT.
“Living in Rome, itself, was great – but speaking the language also helped me settle in quickly,” he added.
“I was also able to spend a bit of time with Nick Mallett, whom I know well from here, although he was quick to remind me that I was probably the first coach in the history of the game to lose two rugby matches on two different continents at exactly the same time when UCT lost narrowly to Hamilton’s in the WP Super League in Cape Town and Roma went down to Treviso (in September) in Italy’s Super 10!”
With the 2010 Varsity Cup less than three weeks away now, Dobson, his coaching staff and players will be ramping up their preparations with a trip to Alan Zondagh’s Rugby Performance Centre in Riebeek West this week.
The players will up their rugby-specific training ahead of Saturday’s pre-season friendly against the Stormers (at the RPC at 10am), followed by other warm-ups against Western Province (on Wednesday, January 20) and Boland (Saturday, January 23).
“It goes without saying that all of our warm-up matches are against high-quality opposition,” said Dobson.
“The guys have been training hard since November – once again due to the enormous effort from the guys at the Sports Science Institute – and even though they had a few days off during the Festive Season I am expecting them to be sharp in Riebeek West and no doubt raring to go against the Stormers.
“Unfortunately we do have a few injury problems with key men like Don Armand, JJ Gagiano, Sean van Tonder, Tiger Bax, Tim Whitehead, Nick Koster and Therlow Pietersen all carrying some niggles.
“Don, JJ, Tim and Therlow should be ready for our opening game against the Shimlas, but I would’ve liked to have had them for the Stormers game.”
UCT management team for 2010:
Head coach: John Dobson
Backline coach: Kevin Foote
Scrum coach: Paul Day
Lineout coach: Bodo Sieber
Defensive coach: Dave Wessels
Kicking coach: Gareth Wright
Manager: Lisa Brown
Team doctor: Geoff Huber
Biokeneticists: Tiaan Campher and Fallon Hope
Physiotherapists: Gerald Muller and Mike van Rheede
Medical assistant: Eljoh Theron