The University of Cape Town FNB Ikey Tigers are the World University Rugby Cup Champions! On Monday 21 September 2015 the 1st XV beat Trinity College Dublin by 17:0 in the inaugural final at Iffley Road Rugby Ground, Oxford – clinching the trophy following an exciting clash of the hemispheres.
Oxford University RFC (OURFC) hosted the inaugural tournament as a curtain raiser to the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup; inviting seven teams from different rugby playing nations: a New Zealand universities team; University of British Columbia; Waseda University from Japan; Trinity College Dublin; Siberian Federal University of Russia; FNB UCT; and Stanford University. Stanford unfortunately had to withdraw at short notice earning the Oxford Greyhounds a chance at glory.
Excitement for the tournament started ratcheting up as the Ikey Tigers were sent off at the Club’s annual Black Tie Dinner on 10 September in Cape Town – 280 supporters, players and old boys of the Club cheering them on their way.
The teams were split into two pools of four teams with the top two teams from each advancing onwards – Ikey Tigers’ pool included OURFC Blues; Waseda University; and OURFC Greyhounds. Because there would be five matches within seven days the games were played with twenty minute halves; except for a longer sixty minute final.
Starting on Tuesday 15th our Cape Town students played on the St. Edwards School fields; first beating the OURFC Greyhounds 31:7 and then four hours later beating Waseda University Japan 26:14. The quality of passing and pace at which Waseda played left many ardent Ikey supporters impressed – in retrospect this was an ominous sign for the Springboks match against Japan just four days later. The Oxford Greyhounds fought valiantly in the previous match, scoring a consolatory try in the final minutes. Skilful handling from UCT drew praise from the sidelines in both matchces.
Two days of recovery, training and Oxford walkabouts led up to the Ikey Tigers’ final pool match on Friday 18th September. Held at the Christ Church College field against OURFC 1st XV, this match was a mini-final to determine who would finish top of the pool. Kick-off was at the larks hour, 09h30, with atmospheric morning mist still about – we cannot say for sure, but there may have been more UCT supporters than for the OURFC Blues (Ikey supporters came out in force from far and near!). UCT were off to a flying start with a try from the kickoff. Never looking back we went on to beat our old rivals Oxford University Blues by 28:3.
This guaranteed us a semi-final match later the same day against the team finishing second in the other pool – University of British Columbia (UBC) from Canada. They had proven themselves to be physical and talented; earlier in the week beating the New Zealand universities team before narrowly losing to Trinity College in a nail-biter.
The semi-final in speckled, golden late afternoon sunshine was our first match at the hallowed grounds of Iffley Road in the main OURFC stadium. Trailing 0:7 for most of the first half, anxiety levels in the UCT half of stands steadily grew. We pulled one back just before half time and there was palpable relief in the air as nail-bitten supporters recharged their drinks. Our boys did us proud in the second half, constant pressure on attack and defense wore the Canadians down and we eventually finished 24:12 winners – this was a tough match and spoke volumes about the talent in Canadian club rugby. It has to be said that Varsity Cup has clearly raised the bar in South Africa, especially in terms of the physicality of our play – a full eighty minute match probably would have seen UBC struggling to sustain their structures.
A torturous three day wait ensued until the much anticipated final kicked off at 16h30 on Monday 21st September. A fair number of the tour supporters and players had made the trip to Brighton to support the Springboks on Saturday 19th. A day which rocked the foundations of South African rugby as Japan produced arguably the greatest upset in the history of the game. Monday was our chance to restore some lost pride. Trinity College Dublin would be our foe having seen off OURFC Blues in their semi-final.
Our Ikey Tigers did not let us down. It was a hard fought match, much sweat and blood were spent for every inch gained. Our defense in the end proving impenetrable on the day. Tries for UCT came from second row James Kilroe and a penalty try from maul infringements. Full-back Paul Cohen added two conversions and a superb penalty from the sideline for a final scoreline of 17:0. Well done Ikeys.
All the teams gathered for a gala dinner after the final where UCT turned on the magic, surely leading the singing until late in the day. Waseda University received the competition flag as the hosts of the next installation in 2019. A particularly poignant end to the day was shared by the team in the middle of a darkened field – wishing farewell to those players who had just played their last match for the blue and white hoops. New adventures await them, but none who were there will ever forget the Ikey Tigers who played with great spirit and skill in Oxford 2015.
A huge thank you goes to all the supporters, coaches, sponsors and club management for the mountains that were climbed to make this tour possible.