Turner & co. to do Ikeys proud

No less than seven University of Cape Town (UCT) rugby players will be in action during the International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens World Series in George this Friday and Saturday – including new England cap Mathew Turner.

Three Ikeys players – Kyle Brown, Mpho Mbiyozo and Paul Delport – will once again turn out for the Springbok Sevens team, but the remaining four will be amongst the opposition this weekend.

Delport and Mbiyozo are experienced SA Sevens players, while 21-year-old Brown – a flank in the 15-man version – made his debut during the team’s triumphant Dubai campaign a week ago.

Brown played mostly off the bench in Dubai, but he will be expected to make an even bigger impact in George this weekend, as will his former Ikey Tigers teammate, wing Mat Turner.

Both Brown and Turner played a big role in UCT’s outstanding FNB Varsity Cup campaign earlier this year; the John Dobson-coached Ikeys team reaching the Final of the inaugural Varsity Cup – a tournament which has since put many other students on the rugby map.

Turner – who has an English mother – has experienced a rapid rise since joining Guinness Premiership club Bristol two months ago, and is now set to make his Sevens debut for his adopted country in George. But Turner, the top try-scorer in the Varsity Cup, has achieved all of this, despite – like Brown – not even being a regular for the Western Province Under-21 team in 2008.

“It will be awesome to get my first England Sevens cap this week and to get it here in South Africa makes it even more special,” Turner told rugby365.com.

“I’ve played four games for Bristol since arriving in England two months ago, so things have changed very quickly.

“I just hope I can use this opportunity to prove myself,” he added.

England and SA representation aside, UCT is also very well represented in the United States Sevens team; with current Ikeys captain Jonathan ‘JJ’ Gagiano, Dallen Stanford and Matt Hawkins having swapped their Ikey Tigers stripes for the stars and stripes of American.

Gagiano, a hard-working No.8 in the mould of Gary Teichmann, made his full international debut for the US Eagles in Tests against Uruguay and Japan last month. Stanford and Hawkins, meanwhile, have been living in the United States and playing for the Eagles Sevens team for some time now.

The fleet-footed Turner believes the exciting brand of rugby on offer at UCT is the main reason why so many of the club’s players are spread out across the various international teams on show in George this weekend.

“The fact that seven of our players are in three different international teams says a lot about the type of rugby we play, and are allowed to play, at the club,” he said.

“Dobbo [John Dobson] gives the players carte blanche to play a natural game which suits Sevens rugby and it not only attracts South African teams [in terms of selection], but also international teams.”

But Dobson, one of the best young coaches in South Africa, was quick to deflect the praise directed at him, saying: “Robbie [Fleck] and I try our best to give the guys freedom to express themselves and they responded superbly this year.

“The Varsity Cup was obviously a major highlight for us, but the Super League was a tough challenge too, as we tried to maintain our form and confidence throughout a long league campaign.”

And speaking about his UCT players on the IRB Sevens circuit, Dobson added: “It’s absolutely brilliant to see UCT players take the step up to international rugby, but it’s quite a bitter-sweet moment for us as they’re all quality players that we’re going to have to replace come the 2009 Varsity Cup.

“[But] that’s part of the challenge as a coach – especially at a club like UCT where funding is an issue. It’s hard for us to hold onto players or get new big-name players on board due to the money available, but hopefully if people start seeing us as a good rugby nursery that will start attracting more players in the future.”

To add to the UCT-heavy occasion this weekend, the US and South Africa have been drawn into Pool B, whilst the top two teams from Pool A and B will face each other in the Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, which could well see a rematch of last week’s Dubai Final between South Africa and England.

US Eagles star Stanford, who played first team rugby for UCT at centre, joked: “We [UCT old boys] could form our own Sevens team here, and maybe win the tournament… Wouldn’t that be brilliant?”