Q&A with Ikey Legend Rob Wagner

We catch up with Rob Wagner, former Ikey’s player in the 1970’s and later a UCT Sports Administrator, before moving up the ranks of WP Rugby.   

Rob is considered by local rugby supporters as a true “Western Province Man”. After his playing years, Rob gave 25 years of unwavering service to Western Province Rugby and the Western Province Rugby Union (WPRFU). Starting out as Marketing Manager in 1991, then moving on to Director of Development and then Managing Director of WP Rugby in 1997 before being appointed Group CEO for both the WPRFU, Western Province Rugby (Pty) Ltd and the DHL Stormers.

Rob started off in 1973/74 playing for UCT U20A and then played UCT 1st XV from 1975 to 1978. Rob was a UCT Sports Administrator from January 1988 to June 1991.

Following his university playing days Rob played for close neighbors Villagers 1st XV from 1979 to 1985 (captain ’82 to ’85).

We posed some questions to Rob.

1. Are you still involved with rugby in the Western Cape?

Still involved in rugby having served as HOD:Operations for both the 2021 British&Irish Lions Tour and the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

2. You previously said “The 1976 Intervarsity was the greatest match I have ever played in when against all odds (and after a long break of no Intervarsity’s) we were victorious. It is a day never to be forgotten and I can still remember the match as if it took place yesterday. Are there any particular moments and memories from that game that stand out to you?

Two moments. A “handshake” to the jaw from Boland Coetzee at the very first lineout. But above everything else, the try-scoring move called “Lochore” executed to perfection by Nick Mallet and Tim Brukman.

3. Other than the 1976 Intervarsity game, what games or seasons were memorable to you?

Every season was a privilege and a highlight playing in the Ikey jersey for both the U20As and 1XV. Such strong friendships were forged and still to this day Nick Mallet, Giles White and I (1976 Intervarsity loose trio) meet regularly at the Hussar Rondebosch. Nick and Giles were both special to play with!! And playing at Newlands every Saturday in front of big crowds and your student mates made for unforgettable and lifelong memories

4. You were recently involved with the organization of the World Cup 7’s tournament. The Ikeys have produced a number of top international sevens players over the years. When you played, sevens was not as big as it is now. Who do you think from your playing days would have been successful playing sevens rugby?

Without having to think about it, 2 players immediately come to mind (which is unfair to others) viz. Dugald Macdonald and Peter Whipp.

5. There are always a few players who are unlucky not to make it to a higher level (provincial or Springbok level). Who would you consider from your playing days was unlucky not to play at a higher level?

I was privileged to play with so many great players at UCT who were unlucky not to be selected for higher honours. It would be unfair to mention any player by name as I will definitely leave a player out and not do justice to the question.

6. Who were a few of the real characters of the game that you played with? Any humorous incidents that you can recall?

Real characters (and not to mention their character traits) would be Dave Zietsman, Butch Deuchar, Nick Mallet, Dave Johnson, Graham Ducasse, Brent Jordaan (to name a few).

7. Do you still follow local club rugby and the Varsity Cup?

Still very much a regular follower and spectator of club (and school) rugby. Varsity Cup is such a wonderful competition – would loved to have participated in such a competition in my UCT years

8. What are your thoughts on the state of the game locally and in South Africa in general?

One only has to look at the high standard of competition at school, Varsity Cup and provincial U21 levels to conclude that rugby in SA is very healthy.

9. Recently there has been a lot of frustration with the rules/refereeing of games and the continuous delays in the game, which is making the game less appealing to watch. Would you have any personal suggestions on what could be done to improve the game and the application of rules?

Rugby is at the stage where there are just so many rules and match officials for every aspect of the game. The rule book needs to “lose” some pages. Also, the rules do not always reward ball possession as there are teams who have perfected winning through “defence” over “attack”. Difficult to comprehend as an ex-Ikey whose rugby was moulded up on the Green Mile by playing with 1XV players who understood and were most competent to efficiently execute “attack” (and I know this sounds a bit like “in my day”).