Infernal Opinions – mutterings of an Ikeys relic – the kick off

Ikeys rugby has always taken strength from its long tradition – “Running Rugby Since 1882” says the training kit of the Ikey Tigers for good reason. Varsity rugby has a passionate following and anyone who has every played in the stripes and experienced the spirit is “always a tiger” – what a pleasure to have a blue and white rugby connoisseur share some opinions and unreliable memories in our new feature column.

Let the games begin. The 2011 VARSITY CUP kicked off last evening in Bloemfontein in ideal conditions. After the boring trundling about Newlands of the modern day rugby behemoths, the expectations ran high at the tantalizing prospect of seeing some running rugby from the Tigers and the Shimlas. In a sense we were not disappointed. The UCT backline moved the ball at speed, but early season rustiness and new, untried midfield combinations, saw a number of dropped passes at crucial moments. Demetri Catrakillis (I hope the Cape Times got the spelling right) is a name we should get used to because this young man is a distinct asset to the Tiger’s squad. Given an immaculate service by Nick Groom he showed that he is a name for the future. A cool head, good feet and above all a good passer of the ball, plus what appears to be a deadly boot, bodes well for the Tigers in this crucial position. I fear that the Stormers might well call on Nick Groom to fill the glaring gap left by Duvenhage’s injury and the ponderous peccadilloes of Ricky the Fat.

The real surprise and a very pleasant one at that, was the superb performance of the Tigers tight five and the excellent play of the loose forward trio. I attended a launch of the Ikey Foundation about ten days ago and besides a graphic presentation of what this dynamic new entity responsible for the future of UCT rugby needs from Alumni and all Varsity supporters, the new caps in the Tigers squad were trotted out for approval and recognition. Quite frankly, they looked very young (which they are) and quite small next to the Tigers squads of the previous three years. I had this feeling that they were in for a torrid time in the tight phases of the game. Added to my misgivings, was the stark realization that we had lost 14 members of the 2010 squad, due to impending early life senility (older than 25 in this year), moved on to careers outside Varsity rugby, and the steady stream of Tigers players who go on to higher honours. It all seemed to project a one year rebuilding process for us. Not a bit of it, if last night is anything to go on. Kevin Foote, Stephen Knoop and that master scrummager, Paul Day, plus the pre season conditioning thanks to Tim Noakes and others, has produced a typical Tigers squad, which whatever happens this year, will be highly competitive in the 2011 competition.

I am delighted to be wrong in my premature judgment of the squad’s chances in 2011; but then that is typical of an old curmudgeon from the dim and distant sixties. We become not only cranky and rickety, but very fixed in our opinions of all things new and different. I have signed up for a special course under the guidance of Bodo Sieber, Jan Palm and a mystery tutor, to broaden my horizons and to better understand their enormous tolerance in even listening to my mutterings. Watch this column for subtle signs of an improvement in my overall demeanour. Bodo thinks that it is too late, but he wants to trot me out on occasions to demonstrate to the younger Varsity players that this(me) is what happens as you approach rugby senility.

On a totally different note; Hiddingh Hall rugby celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. To the uninitiated, a brief overview. Koshuis or residence rugby has been around since the Rinderpest. It has always waxed and waned in popularity at UCT, but remained a powerhouse of emerging talent in Matieland. In 1961 an enterprising group of part time commerce students at the town campus in the Gardens, banded together and formed an independent rugby club to enable the part time students who were slave labour for auditing and law firms in Cape Town, to play rugby on a Saturday afternoon within strict guidelines. In between a five day work week, lectures in the evenings and tutorials on Saturday morning, any player who represented Hiddingh Hall who was caught training or practising secretly, was drummed out of Hiddingh in disgrace.

He was stripped of his rank and treated as a sad case of TTFTS (Taking things far too seriously). The real HH men were dedicated to a few very important things; to somehow burgle their way through the boredom of accounting and auditing and law exams; to endure the daily grind of articles with the minimum of pain and suffering; to find a suitable girlfriend who would put up with shenanigans; and above all to play rugby on a Saturday afternoon before repairing to Forries to drink the pub dry, irritate all the other customers, and then expect their girlfriends to put up with their drunken late night fumblings. Despite the natural disadvantages, and to the astonishment of the main club, who looked upon HH as a rebellious outbreak of measles which would surely go away, HH grew in strength to the extent where the main club was compelled to bring it into its fold. Over the years, HH won its league many times, produced some pretty good players, and spread the name and fame, or notoriety, of Hiddingh Hall rugby far and wide. A bemused Namibian farmer was heard to mutter after watching HH unwind on tour, after being thrashed black and blue by a local team; ‘Julle Ikeys kannie rugby speel, maar julle kan wragtiewaar suip.’

In 1986 Hiddingh Hall celebrated its 25th Anniversary. I know all about it because I was one of the few in my era who played for HH and then went on to play senior rugby for UCT. Ian McCallum was the guest speaker at the formal dinner held on the main campus, and the late M.C Marais was the guest of honour. Now, M.C(a truly great Varsity man) was accustomed to the sort of behavior common to HH celebrations; he had played top rugby in the thirties for UCT and W.P, served up North in WW2, so letting off steam was perfectly natural to him. Ian, however, was not accustomed to seeing so called mature men throw bread rolls at the main table(nothing to do with Ian’s excellent talk or M.C’s witticisms), or one of the pioneers from the sixties who had become a respectable banker, launch a dive tackle which flattened three of his unsuspecting teammates, or endless beer chases, resulting in forty year old HH faithful eventually falling flat on their faces. I can distinctly remember carrying one of our band of brothers, with the help of one of the HH originals, David Galloway, down the Jamieson steps, while the injured party plaintively claimed that he was paralyzed from the waist down; funny what alcohol can do to the brain!

On March 25thHiddingh Hall Rugby will proudly celebrate its 50th Anniversary. This column wishes to congratulate HH on their very special place in the history of the UCT RFC, to recognize the pioneering enterprise of the founders, Rodney Dart, Keith Atkinson(who played for HH for at least 20 years), Neville Weiner, David Galloway and others. A select band of HH players went on to administer the fortunes of the club within a club with enormous enthusiasm and dedication. Their recognition will come out at the March celebration, but certainly in recent times one name exemplifies the never say die attitude and philosophy of Hiddingh Hall rugby; Dennis Cassidy.

Finally, last night’s game in Bloemfontein was a sharp reminder that the unique Varsity Spirit is alive and well. We have a tough encounter in Potch next week, followed by four home games. Sign up now with the IKEY FOUNDATION, come to the Green Mile from the 21st February onwards to watch the Tigers at work for your pleasure and entertainment.

Gavin(Old Relic) Fernie

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