2021; THE YEAR OF?
Will 2021 be a year to remember or will we EVEN remember the Ikeys of 2021?
For a second successive year, our Club, which dates back to 1882, was only able to operate a fraction of our traditional student offering. The WP SLA League (old Grand Challenge) was cancelled. The Varsity Cup Young Gun’s U20 and our vibrant Internal League tournaments did not take place. The Swifts, our Women’s Rugby division, was also not allowed to continue under UCT’s Covid protocols. All in all, based on 2019 pre-Covid numbers, about 450 students were unable to feel their studs churn into the Green Mile turf over the past two years. Sad times!
BUT 2021 WILL BE MORE THAN A YEAR TO REMEMBER. IT WILL GO DOWN AS ONE OF THE CLUB’S MOST ICONIC AND SUCCESSFUL YEARS EVER. WHY?
Our first Team and Varsity Cup coaches and management worked in unison throughout 2020 to present the most professional set-up that we could offer within our limited resources. They worked day and night (literally) canvassing and learning from coaches around the world to develop a strategic coaching and game plan that would enable the Varsity Cup squad to perform at their optimal level for the 2021 tournament.
In September 2020 pre-season for the 1st XV squad began in earnest at our partner gym, Ignite, in Claremont and at Club legend Mike Van Rheede’s new Sports Rehabilitation Centre in Observatory.
On-field training began a month later on fields all over Cape Town as the UCT Campus was closed. This did not deter anyone, nor did the fact that players regularly had to self-isolate after being exposed to or testing positive for Covid. The squad worked harder than ever to rise to the complexity and frustration of the circumstances. One pre-season highlight was undoubtedly recording an updated version of our Club song, The Warrior Poet.
And then the real shock hit us. Varsity Cup 2021 would be played in a bio bubble in Pretoria. This meant that the team and management would spend three periods of 11 days each in an isolated environment in a new student residence on the Tukkies campus called Future Africa. There would be 3 days set aside between each bubble to come home, recharge and then head north again.
How would we cope? Most of our coaches are part-time with other employment responsibilities and our players would have to juggle this new reality with all the normal high pressures of varsity academics. How could we play 9 round robin games plus, if we were successful, a semi-final and final in 5 weeks? What about our dearest friend and ally, the Green Mile’s howling south easter that Potch or Bloem players experienced in a ghostly fashion? What about missing the thousands of Ikey supporters that sing and shout encouragement from all corners of the field? Would this be a step too far for us city slickers from the University on the Hill?
Our theme for VC 2021, created by Head Coach, Tom Dawson-Squibb was DEFIANCE. No matter what, no matter who or no matter how, the Ikeys of 2021 were going to make sure that all other 9 universities playing in this adapted tournament format were going to feel our presence both on and off the field. And so, an unbelievable journey began.
To be unbeaten over the round robin period, win a semi-final and lose the final to the hosts in a nail biter, was more than a phenomenal achievement considering all the hurdles that the team had to face on an hour-to-hour basis. The tears that continued to stream down players’ faces after the final were not only due to the loss. It was about the sadness that this special group of 35 Ikeys would be going their separate ways to face new challenges. The group would never be the same again.
Some were offered professional contracts before they had even boarded the flight back to Cape Town, some began post-graduate studies at overseas universities and the rest trooped home to complete the academic year in what had become the norm, online learning.
Final results have recently been published and an amazing 23 members of this squad graduated with a UCT under graduate or post graduate degree in 2021. Not so bad for the “not so clever” students who play rugby.
Where to from Varsity Cup 2021, the coaches wandered. The psychological and emotional health of our players has been at the forefront of our strategic thinking since Covid first reared its head. Anxiety and depression due to societal pressures and alienation has without question created a situation where your students feel like corks bobbing in an eternal storm. Our immediate focus was to execute a plan where we could create an environment based on relationship and connectedness despite the lack of matches. We offered our players the opportunity to work together in gym sessions at Ignite and train with all the coaches on the Mile.
And so we continue our vibrancy. 2022 Pre-Season is continuing at a rapid rate for the 1st XV and Under 20s. Early next year, we will recruit new and returning students to join our other teams. Fingers crossed, in 2022 our Blue and White stripes will appear at grounds around the Western Cape and University stadiums across the country.
Nothing would have been achieved without the persistent and dedicated work by our coaches and managers under Tom and his manager, Raun Billett, our General Manager, Gavin Sheldon and the always-on-call wise counsel of our Vice-President and Chairman, Greg Fury. I couldn’t wish to work with better individuals. A massive thank you to them and to all our passionate volunteers and service providers.
The club owes deep gratitude to our Vice Chancellor and Patron, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, President, Neville Isdell and Executives VP, Phil Kilroe, John Dobson, John Le Roux and Neil Macdonald. Their support and love of the club is phenomenal. To our donors and supporters who have enabled so many to receive a quality academic and rugby education, a massive thank you for believing in our players, UCT and the Club.
And finally to all the school principals and coaches who have supported their learners in choosing UCT as their university of choice, we thank you. Send us more! (Especially the next Springbok Front Row, that would be great). As we hope to restart our full Club offering in 2022 we are more committed than ever that rugby is an amazing sport where there is a place for everyone. We celebrate loudly our 1st Team’s successes, but we also look forward to long nights of social rugby on the Green Mile.
May you have a safe and restful festive season