Ikeys winning the Varsity Cup sans a stadium, sans lights, and sans any real financial backing from UCT, saw the 2014 Varsity Cup lighting up what has become a pretty dour South African rugby landscape says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.
As we contemplate yet another weekend of Super Rugby that sees most South African sides relying on the kick for the corner so as to set up the legalised obstruction that is the driving maul from a lineout as their primary form of attack, my focus this week is on the breath of fresh air that was Varsity Cup 2014.
Never in my life have I seen a comeback like the one staged by the Ikeys in Monday night’s final against Pukke in Potchefstroom. Down 33-15 with 8 minutes to play, and the UCT students, admittedly with the help of some of the poorest option taking in rugby from the Potch boys, pulled the proverbial rabbit out the hat! It was sporting theatre at it’s very, very best.
But the final was just the icing on the cake. Every Monday evening throughout this year’s tournament dished up something worth watching, mostly in the form of entertaining running rugby. Sure the manpower is not quite as sizy as that seen in levels above, and the defense not quite as organised, hence there being a bit more space, but there just seems more attacking intent from the players.
Perhaps it is the fact that the players are yet to have the creativity coached out of them by provincial coaches focussed only on defence and winning the game, but the powers that be also deserve credit. Not everyone’s cup of tea, Varsity Cup have been incredibly innovative (and brave) in trying out new rules, and the ones that see conversions worth 3 instead of 2 points, penalties and drop goals worth 2 instead of 3 points, free kicks awarded for the catching of aimless kicks down field, and 2 refs to police the offside line all speak to the tournament being about playing a more ball in hand attacking game.
And it has worked!
The fact that the tournament was so much more competitive this year also made for much more compelling viewing. No more the utter dominance from Tuks, twice caught bending the rules that aim to keep the tournament played by real students. NMMU have gone from whipping boys to semi-final contenders. Wits, who never won a game in their 2 year stint at the top level, only lost 18-15 to Maties, who were the only team to beat Pukke in the round robin stages. 6 of the 8 sides were in contention for semi-final spots going into the final round of round robin matches.
Short and sharp, with every side playing each other (something Super Rugby can learn from), played in smaller stadia like they do in Europe, thus creating a great atmosphere, it was an exciting tournament to follow.
New Director of Rugby, Kevin Musikanth, and his Ikey side, deserve huge credit for the win. The only side not play out of a purpose built stadium (instead a field without lights good enough to host a televised night game, concrete stairs down one side, and scaffolding on the other), and the team that definitely enjoys the smallest financial backing from the actual university they represent, the Ikeys started their campaign slowly, with a loss against the team they played in the final, but then came together to play with great heart, courage, belief and real passion, to lift the trophy in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
With 10 minutes to go, and the game basically lost, Musikanth emptied the bench – to at least give every squad member a chance to experience what was an amazing atmosphere in Potch. The amazing thing, though, is that those guys coming off the bench did not see the game as lost, instead choosing to believe in their ability to turn things round. And that is exactly what they did.
Similar to what Johan Ackermann has achieved with the Lions in their extraordinary start to the Super Rugby season, Musikanth and his management team (which was not insubstantial) has managed to find a way to get his players to come together and play for that old fashioned cause, the jersey.
Good on Ikeys for leading the campaign to make the Varsity Cup a real student only tournament, even knowing that UCT will not lower entrance or pass requirements for high performance athletes given that every course is over-subscribed, and good on them for winning the tournament on a seriously shoestring budget. It’s a great story!
One has to wonder home many finals they will have to give up before the institution deem it worth putting up those floodlights though …