Like the legendary song by Don McLean, I believe we all lost something last night and whether or not you want to openly admit it, deep down we all know it.
It will be easy to dismiss the actions of UCT as being part of the game today, or even calling me or this column sentimental or over-dramatic – but there can be no doubt in my mind that we have lost something in the Varsity Cup which should have been protected by all involved, regardless of what you were or are allowed to do.
If you are unsure about the incident I am referring to let me help to refresh your memory.
Last night was a do-or-die round for all 5 teams that found themselves at the top of the log in the last round of league matches. This is evident in the fact that the second placed team prior to last night’s matches, Maties, was kicked out of the competition by virtue of a single league point.
Out of all these fixtures Ikeys arguably had the most difficult fixture as they had to travel to Pretoria and beat Tukkies who came off a fabulous win over Maties just the week before – a task which almost seemed impossible given Ikeys themselves were coming off a couple of bad losses.
Ikeys proceeded to select their strongest team for this fixture and included players like Whitehead, Brache and Nic Groom, all who played some part in their campaign this year, and all of whom were available or released from their provincial (Vodacom Cup) commitments.
One selection however came completely out of the blue, that of Hilton Lobberts.
So much so that punters and journalists close to the Ikeys team like Tank Lanning did not even know he was registered with them until his name appeared on the team sheet at lock. His name does not even appear on the tournament’s official website as being part of the Ikeys squad.
When people on social networks started questioning the selection of Lobberts, the Varsity Cup’s tournament rules were thrown at us including the ‘fact’ that Lobberts was selected to remain ‘match-fit’ (presumably for the Vodacom Cup side of Western Province who fielded Anton van Zyl and Adrian Fondse in their last match) by playing for his ‘club’ (he is registered with Ikeys but has never played for them).
The irony is that if Western Province’s Vodacom Cup team selects the same locks for this coming weekend’s fixture, Lobberts will have no team to play for as he is not allowed to play in the play-off matches for Ikeys as he had not played the minimum required 2 round robin games to qualify. Which would leave him struggling to stay ‘match fit’ for this, or possibly the next two weekends.
The selection of Lobberts not only left most of us confused, as I am sure poor old Pallo Manual who did duty for the Tigers throughout their campaign was probably left scratching its head wondering what he had done wrong as he had to stay home, and no doubt will now be called up to do duty in the semi-finals.
Now personally I have no problem with any team doing their utmost to win, but the cost at which winning comes at sometimes, might just leave you and everyone else ultimately ending up as losers.
The Ikey Tigers did not break any rules, they simply used the framework available to them to go out and win a crucial fixture. This framework included the Western Province Rugby Union (under which the UCT Rugby Club falls) and more specifically, the Western Province Vodacom Cup team whose coach, Paul Dobson, has a long history with the University having coached them up and till last year’s Varsity Cup.
It does open the door however for any other university in future, all of whom fall under various rugby unions, to load their team with experienced provincial and even Super rugby players whenever they have a must-win fixture.
Even more so if we consider that you now have a Varsity Shield or ‘B’ Section where promotion and relegation will play a major role in determining who stays in the elite division, and who moves down to the Shield division.
It is difficult to justify or even describe things like the ‘unwritten rules’ or the ‘spirit of the game’ in today’s day and age where professionalism rules everything. But it only takes one instance, or one individual or team of individuals to break this ‘rule’ for everything to spiral out of control.
Competition rules will also never really define this concept, but there is no doubt in my mind at least that everyone who is involved with this competition, was quite well aware of it.
My personal interpretation of the Don McLean classic is that although no-one can really pin-point the meaning of the song, it deals with a loss of some kind, a loss perhaps of the innocence of America and American society from the 50’s and early 60’s which can neither be clearly defined or fully explained, but a loss all Americans felt and could relate to in their own personal way.
Ikeys might have stolen victory from the jaws of defeat in Pretoria last night to keep their tournament hopes alive, but they also stole the innocence of the Varsity Cup.