Ikeys to play with heads and hearts

uct_maties_2006_01.jpgThe inaugural FNB Varsity Cup kicks-off on Monday evening,
with three pulsating university matches in store for rugby aficionados across
the country. In the first live televised match of this all-new
multi-million-rand sponsored tournament, Maties take on Tuks at the Danie
Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch at 18.45.

Ian Kirkpatrick, a household name in South African rugby,
who has been involved with Stellenbosch University for years now, had only good
things to say about this new tournament.

"This competition is the best thing that has happened
to university rugby in South
Africa
for years," he told
<i>rugby365.com</i>.

The Maties-Tuks encounter has all the makings of a classic
varsity affair, and should provide for a great spectacle. 
With a number of pre-match activities on the cards to
attract the students, the Danie Craven stadium should be packed.
At the same time, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) play Tshwane University of
Technology (TUT) at the UJ Stadium – also at 18.45. 

But in our featured preview of Week One, the University of
Cape Town (UCT) takes on the might of the NWU-Pukke at the University of Cape
Town, nicknamed the ‘Green Mile’ by Ikeys players and students. (Kick-off is at
17.30, because of load-shedding in the Groote Schuur/Rondebosch area.)

 

The team from Cape
Town
, virtually all of whom are full-time students at
UCT, will be up against one of the favourites to walk away with the inaugural
FNB Varsity Cup title – an intimidating prospect for the Ikeys.

The Puk-Rugby Institute, which was established in 2000, is a
world-class facility, and the Pukke are as close to a professional outfit as
one can get in terms of university rugby. Pukke have won several FNB Superbowls
and National Club Championships. They are coached by former Bulls and Scotland prop
Matthew Proudfoot and by all accounts will regard UCT as bankers for five
points. Pukke are known for their highly professional approach and strong
driving play.

 
Of course, the Puk-Rugby Institute was the brainchild of
former Springbok coach André Markgraaff, a mural of whose face adorns the
tunnel of the Pukke home ground. 

The Ikeys, who are celebrating 125 years of UCT Rugby, will
be looking to put up a spirited performance – something they are renowned for
on their home turf, the famed ‘Green Mile’. Monday sees the beginning of
lectures, so UCT will be banking on the vocal Ikey supporters, as well as their
regular cluster of loyal Old Boys, for some extra motivation.

John Dobson, the new UCT head coach, is under no illusions
ahead of Monday.

"Pukke are one of the strongest club sides in the
country, and are a very professional outfit," Dobson told this website.
"At UCT, we don’t have the budget or the resources to attract the top
players in South Africa. 

"UCT is primarily an academic university and we have no
rugby academy – our players are students first and foremost that have beaten
UCT’s stringent academic admission requirements. But, in saying that, we have a
superb team spirit, and the guys really play for the love of the game."

This renowned, and typically stubborn, UCT spirit is what
Dobson and assistant coach, former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck, will be
banking on when the going gets tough on Monday evening. 

The Ikeys started their preparations in January, much later
than the other teams, who began in earnest late last year.

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), for
instance, headed to Alan Zondagh’s new Rugby Performance Centre for a
pre-season camp in order to hit the ground running on Monday. 

Despite the Ikeys’ short pre-season, they have been putting
in some good work on the training field.

They had a good warm-up game against the Stormers at
Newlands earlier in the month, an experience that will no doubt stand them in
good stead moving forward, whilst world leading sports scientist Professor Tim
Noakes has also been involved with the team during their the pre-season,
concentrating on the mental aspect of the game. 

Noakes has been working on the mental preparation of the
players, helping them to believe in their own abilities. Hopefully for the
underdogs, Professor Noakes’ work will reap reward during the season. Noakes
has been imparting similar message to that he gave the Springboks before their
campaign last year.

The new laws (the Experimental Law Variations), which will
be in use during the Varsity Cup, will no doubt suit the home side in their
quest to topple Pukke.

With a more open style of rugby expected under the auspices
of the ELVs, the Ikey Tigers will have no trouble in giving the ball some air –
a style of play that is synonymous with UCT Rugby. As they themselves say,
"Constantly risking absurdity." 

Dobson, who coached the unbeaten UCT Under-20s team last
year, has put faith in ‘his’ youngsters, with no less than 11 players from last
year’s all-conquering U20s squad making the step up to the senior side.

"We are looking ahead; we are in the beginning phase of
a three-year plan," explained Dobson. "If this team stays together
for the next couple of years, they have the potential to become a really good
team." 

The Ikey Tigers, led by No.8 JJ Gagiano, will be looking to
cause a few upsets this year. 

They are by no means the favourites, but if they can trip up
one of the so-called ‘big guns’, either at home, on the road or during the
Easter Festival in George, they would have achieved their objective for the
tournament.
 

UCT have two home games first up (Pukke, followed by Tuks on
February 25) and will be looking to get one win under their belt before they
travel to face the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Monday, March 3.

All is set for an exciting opening Monday of FNB Varsity Cup
Rugby. Let’s hope it lives up to the mantra of
‘Rugby That Rocks!’.

For fixtures please click here

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