Infernal mutterings from an ancient rugby relic

One of my boyhood sporting heroes was an Australian cricketer called Keith Miller, the preeminent cricketing all rounder of his era, which coincided with the end of the great Donald Bradman’s last few years of test cricket. Like so many sportsmen of that time, Miller was robbed of five years of cricket by the Second World War. Instead of playing cricket, Miller became a crack night fighter pilot in the RAF.

Resuming his cricket career at the end of the war Miller blossomed into a great all rounder, with a particularly cavalier attitude toward cricket and life in general; sort of a Shane Warne of the late forties and fifties. At a juncture in his test career he was dropped from the crack Aussie team and reprimanded for not taking the game seriously enough in the opinion of critics, including the great Bradman. When asked why even in the face of a sharp decline in his cricketing fortunes, he appeared to be unruffled; did the pressure not get to him? Miller’s reply is one of sports classic ripostes He replied, “Mate, pressure is when you have a Focke-Wulf 190 up your arse; not test cricket.”

After Monday night I sat and reflected long and hard on the vagaries of UCT’s rugby fortunes in this year’s Varsity Cup. If this was a matter for the current government to assess and move forward constructively, a Commission for the ‘Analysis of the decline and fall of the Ikey Tiger Empire’ would be convened, perhaps with the Honourable Patrick Tebbutt heading the commission, and various other rugby experts plus a few politicians to complete the study in time for the next Varsity Cup.

We die hard Ikey Tiger and UCTRFC supporters have much simpler options at our disposal. We can congregate in various pubs, clubs and around the braai on Sundays bemoaning what might have been, and where it all went wrong. My philosophy about the whole thing is simple; we lost, they won. Life goes on. ‘More is nog ‘n dag.’ UCT rugby has always been an exciting mistress; never dull or predictable; wanton and maddeningly frustrating; but, Oh, when in the mood UCT rugby transports one into a sort of rugby paradise for fleeting moments, and then one realizes yet again that it is better to have loved the vagaries and whims of Ikey rugby than to rumble along in the wake of the stately, steel corseted Mistress of the ‘Mag en Krag ; wen of voetsek; philosophy of university rugby which has overtaken the Varsity Cup.

It was inevitable that the great tertiary institutions of the north would resent the stranglehold the two Western Cape universities have had on the coveted Varsity Cup, and bring in panzer support troops and perhaps even a wee bit of chicanery when it came to the ‘eligibility’ of its troops. It is high time for Duitser Bosman and his Varsity Cup committee to clarify what comprises a ‘bona fide’student, eligible to participate in the Varsity Cup competition.

Secondly, the whole pattern and rigid structure of rugby in 2012 has become so robotic and defensive, in so many ways like Rugby League. Added to that, the massive defensive hits of American gridiron, modified by the law of having to use one’s arms, the endless ‘pick and goes, or wedging and rumbling up the field , have all but replaced innovation and risk on attack. Any bit of flair and risk is considered a dangerously contaminated mind set; it’s not cricket mate! It certainly is not inscribed in the DNA of  UCT rugby philosophy.

As I see it the art of stealing the ball has almost been rendered strictly verboten by the way the referees are applying the law. Even the very best artists of stealing the ball are rendered impotent.

Referees have become little Tin Gods, totally overwhelmed by a myriad of laws, subject to interpretation in a split second, TMO’s have severely limited powers, and the end result is a constant screech of the referees whistle, his ‘on the spot judgement’, often in language few of us even understand, and more interruptions in the game than ever before. The setting, resetting and penalties arising from the ‘set, touch, pause, engage’ scrum farce, would go down a treat on Broadway. It could be called, ‘He touched me, I tingled, should we engage?’

A fellow called David Campese who knows a thing or two about running rugby, as opposed to ‘pick and go, flying edge your way up the field’ rugby, contends that modern teams are generally far too deep in attack. He adds that some teams’ backlines stand so far back that they actually go backwards with the ball. He advocates that a simple attack philosophy worked wonderfully well for some of the great teams of yesteryear and would work just as well today; stay flat, run the ball, and don’t kick it away in the red zone.

UCT rugby will rise again like Phoenix. We were the inadvertent victims of our great success in 2011; we do not have the massive forward depth of Stellenbosch, particularly in the tight five; our 2012 squad was young and inexperienced, but will benefit enormously from surviving the rigours of the 2011 competition, and will learn more about themselves in a long Super League season.

I would like to pay a personal tribute to Wes Chetty, who exemplified the very best of the UCT rugby spirit and commitment during his Varsity Cup time on and off the field. My guess is that he and Spikey Knoop are the only two of the current squad not eligible (old age creeps up from 25 plus) for next year’s Varsity Cup competition. Others will emerge during the league season, and like the butterfly emerging, will grace the Green Mile and those foreign fields with skill, flair and honour.

I am looking forward to seeing the development of the current Ikey Tigers squad, from the point of their character and development as typical of the special breed of men UCT produces.

Gavin Fernie

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