Ikeys gear up for Varsity Cup title defense

Defending Varsity Cup champions FNB UCT Ikeys will not change too much as they bid to retain their title next year.

The Cape side claimed their second Varsity Cup title in sensational style earlier this year, scoring three tries in the last five minutes in Potchefstroom to come back from the dead and stun FNB NWU-Pukke in the final.

Ikeys coach Kevin Musikanth says that they have good continuity both in the playing squad and coaching staff, so they will not be deviating too far from what worked so well for them in 2014.

“I think the approach to the campaign will be the same in theory, but the manner in which we do things or approach each game will be different.

“The best campaign management is controlling the things that you can control, so that is what we have really got to concentrate on and the results should look after themselves,” he said. 

Musikanth has lost the services of a few key players who have gone on to become professional rugby players, but has managed to retain the core of the squad which lifted the trophy in Potchefstroom.

“We have got a nice squad together and most of them are from last year, so we have retained a lot of the guys and we have also got a strong group of youngsters coming in so I think our Young Guns will be stronger too which is great.

“Dean Grant, Vince Jobo, Shaun Mcdonald and Neil Rautenbach are all playing provincial rugby and Liam Slatem has gone to Hong Kong.

“Those are significant losses but otherwise we have managed to retain everyone else,” he said.

The coaching staff also remains in place with former Bok hooker Hanyani Shimange taking the forwards, former Sharks utility back Clinton van Rensburg in charge of the backline, experienced scrum ‘doctor’ Paul Day handling the set-pieces and Tom Dawson-Squibb back to handle the mental side of the game which proved so vital in their comeback victory in Potchefstroom.

Musikanth said that it is encouraging to have the same support staff in place as they will have a target on their backs as defending champions.

“Shimmy [Shimange] and I developed a very strong coaching relationship this year which was our first year working together. He brought a hard edge to our pack and we complemented each other nicely so I am excited to work with him again.

“Tom [Dawson-Squibb] played a very big role and very much a supportive role for me. It was my first year and he was great as a mentor and a friend really.

“Paul [Day] has been there from the very first Varsity Cup, and he did wonders with our scrum this year. He is absolutely passionate about the scrum, the funny thing about him is that he will say that anything outside of nine he doesn’t worry about. Everything else is white noise to him, he just concentrates on the pack,” Musikanth explained.

The enlarged UCT training squad is currently undergoing a conditioning phase in the gym, with a tour to Johannesburg planned for mid-January as they build up to their title defence.

“We have started our conditioning in the gym, and we are pretty much following the same pattern as last year.

“We are going to camp in Joburg in the middle of January, we have got a game set up against Impala Plats who are the national club champs and we are also going to have a contested type training against Wits.

“We have also got some chukka-type warm-up games against Hamiltons and False Bay lined up,” said Musikanth.

The Ikeys mentor is expecting a tough season, and said that they are intent on improving on the way they performed in 2012 when they finished down in seventh place as defending champions.

“There will definitely be added pressure, for any side that is defending a title there is always pressure.

“There is added pressure and it is something that we didn’t handle well in 2012, which is something that we need to learn from.

“With a guy like Tom [Dawson-Squibb] looking after the psyche of the campaign and mentorship from Professor Tim Noakes hopefully we won’t run into the same problems,” he said.

He added that they will be out to create the same environment in the squad which served them so well this year, and stressed the need to leave no stone unturned in their preparations.

“The one thing we can take from the last campaign is the value of never giving up, playing until the end, giving everything you have got and believing that whatever is meant to be will be.

“If we do that, it will be more of a success than saying ‘we have to win every single rugby match’.

“We are no different in wanting to retain our trophy than any other team in the Varsity Cup. It now comes down to who prepared the best, who recruited the best and who has looked after their squad the best,” he said.

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