Mutterings of an old rugby relic

The crisis is over. The Ikey Tigers survived the spectre of playing in the Varsity Cup second division.

Congratulations to Footey, Dave, Snoopy, Paul, Tim, Lisa and all the others who bore the pain of their annus horribilis stoically. Dugald has always said that the two greatest fears he has had as President of UCTRFC is to preside over financial disaster and relegation. The fighting spirit and the ongoing generosity of the club followers and supporters as a whole will ensure that neither ghost is allowed to slip into his nightmares like a thief in the night.

Now for a long and tough league season. Some special talent emerged in the Alamo of Varsity Cup 2012. I sat and thought about the 2012 Varsity Cup competition long and hard over a bottle of the best South African red wine south of the Orange river; the true Tuks, Puks and UJoes(sounds like a special hen breeding battery) do not understand the nuances a good red wine induces in the thought processes of a diehard Ikey rugby man.

Here are some thoughts:

  • The Varsity Cup competition has lost its beautiful, youthful innocence. It has become a hardened, cynical adult, determined to achieve the end result, the holy grail of victory at all costs, with scant regard to being a showpiece of university rugby played with style and imagination; risk and flair have become dirty words; the storm troopers will prevail and bugger the spirit of what Francois Pienaar started in 2008.
  • The Ikey Tigers cannot hope to produce a pack with adequate reserves equal to the outstanding 2011 players who took their luck and rode it to the victory over the Blue Bulls second squad, the TUKS, in their own backyard, nogal. None of us will ever forget the Tigers defence in the last ten minutes of that memorable victory in Pretoria, and Kelvin Grove will never forget the team dinner some weeks later.
  • The 2011 squad also had battle hardened inside backs, the sometimes services of the hottest young lock in world rugby, Eben Etzebeth, a cool Greek at flyhalf, Groomed by a very talented scrumhalf, an inspirational skipper, and a pretty good all round team imbued with great spirit and old fashioned guts.
  • The Ikey Tigers need to go back to thinking out of the box to frustrate the monolithic monsters the northern universities produce, or buy from various forward factories throughout the country. In the old days, in the last century, one of the great UCT rugby teams, led by Basil Bey in the early sixties, the war cry of the team was ‘Give us 30% good ball and the backs will do the rest.’ It worked. Again, but perhaps less dependently so because of the power of the forwards in the 1974 UCT team, the backs made beautiful music, while some of the mightiest forwards to ever don the famous blue and white striped jersey, made mincemeat of the opposition forwards.
  • That does not happen very often in UCT rugby clashes with the other top rugby universities and league teams. For instance, prior to the 1974 pack, the battle hardened ex servicemen who came back from WW2 gave UCT an edge over Stellenbosch which caused Doc Craven to become very testy, resulting in him venting his spleen on Doc Louis Babrow. I wish I had been around to hear his mutterings at his old Springbok compatriot. You might say that their rivalry would have been the stuff the best rugby storyteller in South Africa, Paul Dobson, could have spun into a novella.
  • The obsession the Maties have redeveloped with forward dominance, and the poorest backs I have seen in the famous red jersey(other than the scrumhalves and the fullback), coupled with the natural bent of our northern neighbours to go back into panzer type rugby with hired mercenaries, in order to subdue the hated southern universities, is the hallmark of the 2012 Varsity Cup Competition. It is not sour grapes because we struggled. All very good teams have a short life, particularly in university rugby, and perhaps more so in UCT rugby because we do not obsess with the winning at all costs, and there are actually other things in the life of the Ikeys, such as a balanced education, combined with giving it your all on the rugby field, and above all playing the game for the sheer joy and camaraderie. I truly believe that the Maties and the northern universities do not understand how to win joyously, let alone lose graciously. It is far too serious a business for them to take the bitter with the sweet. Losing is an incentive akin to staring into the abyss of disgrace and a haunting sense of failure. It is in the DNA of the Bulls, PUKS, TUKS, Maties, but not the Kovsies. They understand flair and a spirit of adventure in the OFS. I sometimes think that the doughty Voortrekkers dropped off anybody with a sense of humour and a spirit of adventure in the Free State on their painful passage up north. Why the Maties take it quite so seriously is a mystery which has puzzled the rest of us in the W.Cape for centuries.
  • The style of rugby played in the 2012 Varsity Cup Competition was dour in extremis. I fear that 2013 will not be much different.

In closing, Basil Bey and I visited one of our special UCT rugby friends, Piet Olivier at his beautiful home perched high up on the slopes of Paarl, over the Easter weekend. Piet, Helene his wife and his son Chris with his wife Helena and three grandchildren, entertained us as only gracious Bolanders can. Piet is recovering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome(ask your doctor all about this virus) and nine weeks since he was stricken with this bug, he is doing remarkably well. This is due to expert medical attention, support from his wife and family, friends, and Piet’s strength of mind and Ikey spirit. Helene told us that H.O De Villiers, Mike Hoard and the one and only Preston Robertson had visited and cheered Piet up considerably.

I distinctly remember one of my girlfriends in the sixties gazing at Piet at the after match function after a tough game at Newlands, and murmuring,’God, but he is beautiful!’ Strangely, she never said the same about me? Sterkte Piet. You are a special Ikey.

Sadly, another great Ikey died last week. We salute Paul Barnard and our thoughts are with his family.

Now to the rest of the 2012 rugby season. All the best to Footey and the Ikey Tigers squad for the rest of the year.

Gavin Fernie

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