New Ikey Tigers head coach Kevin Foote’s first match in charge of FNB UCT will also be his team’s first-ever trip to Shimla Park to face the University of Bloemfontein in a Varsity Cup clash.
Having faced the Shimlas on neutral turf in 2008 and 2010, and hosting them in Cape Town in 2009 and last year’s semifinals, the Men from Bloemfontein are eagerly awaiting UCT’s arrival on Sunday ahead of Monday’s 2010 tournament opener.
When asked about the challenge of facing last year’s losing semifinalists on their own turf, Foote chuckled: “I haven’t played in Bloem, myself, you know!”
He added, however: “They’re a quality side and playing them anywhere is tough – especially at home.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather because talk is that their field is pretty wet, too, which – of course – could change the entire game.
“Both Shimlas and UCT normally like to play an open game, which is something we would enjoy – but given the potential conditions in Bloemfontein, and from reports we’ve heard, they could favour a more forward-orientated approach this year.”
A potential switch in Shimlas tactics aside, it will be a much-changed UCT side that arrives in Bloemfontein this weekend – the Capetonians, of course, having last played against the Kovsies in the semifinals of the 2010 Varsity Cup.
Eight starting players from that semifinal – which the Ikeys won 27-21 – have moved on; some too old, some to greener pastures, others overseas, leaving the new UCT boss in the midst of something of a rebuilding phase. (Four of the replacements are also no longer at UCT.)
“We’ve been quite lucky (over the past three years) in that we’ve retained the score of the squad from season to season,” said Foote.
“This year, however, we’ve got a vastly different team, which means some of our second-year players will play more of a role as a senior player than normally would be the case.
“At the same time we’re lucky that our captain Nick Fenton-Wells is in his third year and then there’s players like Wes Chetty, Don Armand and Pete Haw in their fourth years. We’ll be relying heavily on that experience.”
Foote, a former SA Sevens captain under Chester Williams, is also very excited about some of his new players – despite their obvious lack of experience at this level.
“A young prop like Fransie van Wyk could make a big impact this year and then (loose forward) Nizaam Carr is also a very special young player.
“Another new face to some will be (centre) Adrian Kritzinger, who after three tough years looks set to finally get his Varsity Cup chance.
“Kritz is a quiet guy, but the guys look up to him because of his obvious talent and all the effort that he’s put in to be here today,” added the UCT boss. “He’ll be our vice-captain this year – I rate him as a leader.”
Whilst Foote in his first year as UCT’s Varsity Cup head coach – taking over from John Dobson, who is now coaching at Western Province – he does have experience of serving under Dobson last year.
Dave Wessels is Foote’s official No.2 – with his main portfolio being that of defence – and former Western Province prop Paul Day will front up once again as the team’s scrumming coach.
The one new face, however, is forwards (and line-outs) coach Stephen Knoop; a former UCT tighthead prop who spent a few seasons in Ireland where he represented provincial teams Connacht and Leinster with distinction.
Said Foote: “Stephen has been awesome – the line-outs have been world-class this year, the guys are very confident on their own ball but also very keen to attack the opposition’s (ball).
“The nice thing about Stephen is that he’s a UCT old boy and a real character, so it’s been an easy fit and, Dave (Wessels), of course, was part of the coaching staff last year. Dave has stepped up massively. He’s very humble, but we’d have no campaign without him.
“Paul Day… Well, what can you say? The gambler! I’ve bounced so much off him already… He’s got plenty of experience and I’m thankful that he’s allowed me to tap into that knowledge of his.”
For all the talk of what might or might not transpire this season, in what is shaping up as yet another competitive Varsity Cup, Foote admits that Monday could not come any quicker for the Ikeys.
“I think everyone’s a bit anxious after a long pre-season and a long build-up,” he said. “It’s all about getting out there and finding out just where we stand.”
By Howard Kahn