In the eye of the Tigers

Whilst FNB UCT flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis scooped all the plaudits after his side’s maiden Varsity Cup triumph in Pretoria last Monday evening, a valuable member of the Ikey Tigers backroom staff sat back in Holland and allowed herself a wry smile.

Renowned eye coach Dr Sherylle Calder was in the Netherlands on business last week, but she sat glued to her laptop – in her pink UCT T-shirt! – as she followed the 2011 Varsity Cup Final between UCT and FNB Tuks via micro-blogging site, Twitter.

Describing the experience as “easily the hardest 80 minutes” she has had to endure in her impressive coaching career (which includes two Rugby World Cup Final matches!), there was no hiding her delight at being involved in yet another ground-breaking triumph as the Ikeys ended their Varsity Cup duck in style.

Having ‘claimed’ Rugby World Cup victories as part of the England (2003) and Springbok (2007) backroom teams – working under the likes of Sir Clive Woodward and Jake White – Calder has been helping UCT for three years now; in the Varsity Cup and beyond.

During her involvement, she watched the side lose to Pukke in the 2009 semifinals and then saw them go down to the Maties in last year’s final.

There was, however, no stopping UCT last Monday as they claimed a 26-16 final win over Tuks (the biggest final winning margin in the Varsity Cup’s history), with Catrakilis scoring sixteen of his team’s points and scooping the Man of the Match honours in the process.

“The UCT guys are exciting young players and [assistant] Christi [Botha] and I love working with them,” says Calder

“But more pleasing – or exciting – than their potential is their hunger and commitment to improving their skills and simply just wanting to learn more every time I see them.”

Calder and Christi worked very closely with Catrakilis – the top points-scorer in the Varsity Cup with 136 points – this year, whom she describes as “potentially the best kicker in the country”.

She adds: “Demetri followed my training instructions so diligently. His hard work paid off – that’s so pleasing as a coach.

“But it wasn’t only his kicking. We worked on a lot of game-like situations… some which played out in matches and all of which he handled perfectly when it came to the crunch.”

Aside from spending time with Catrakilis, Calder worked with the whole of UCT’s Varsity Cup squad this year – those that played and those that did not feature.

Players like Catrakilis would then contact her as and when their needs required – “flyhalves have different eye-coaching needs to, say, a hooker,” she explains – whilst a slightly more seasoned player like Tim Whitehead (given his Super Rugby and provincial experience) also came in contact with Dr Calder for the first time in the lead-up to the play-offs.

Afterwards, Whitehead said via Twitter: “The EyeGym exercises are awesome! Thanks for the help, can’t wait for the next session!!!”

When asked about the ‘tweet’, Calder just smiles and adds: “I’m available to anyone – people must just get in touch. I’ve always said that.

“I’m still in regular contact with former UCT Varsity Cup players like JJ Gagiano [USA Eagles] and Matt Rosslee [Griquas] – they come and see me whenever they’re in Cape Town or they train online via one of my programmes.

“I monitor their training – so they cannot slack off! – and I give them constant feedback.”

UCT head coach Kevin Foote has already gone on record as praising Calder’s input this season – as did his predecessor John Dobson, who first got her involved, in 2009 and 2010 – and Calder herself has loved her foray into Varsity Cup rugby; a tournament which seems to gather more and more momentum every year.

When asked about the Varsity Cup, she enthuses: “The Varsity Cup is just a gold mine for young talent that might never have been found (otherwise). It’s one of the best things that could ever have happened to SA Rugby.”

In turn, Catrakilis – and his teammates – would probably be saying the same about Calder after last week!

By Howard Kahn

* To find out more about Dr Sherylle Calder’s work, visit her website:

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