UCT captain Liam Greenhalgh says his team is ready to defend their title at the World University Rugby Cup in Japan later this month.
The World University Rugby Cup was inaugurated in 2015 at Oxford University as a competition played between top academic rugby universities from each continent, coinciding with the World Cup every four years, and hosted by a leading university in the World Cup host country.
The Ikey Tigers participated in and eventually won the first edition four years ago, but according to Greenhalgh the team’s reselection as participants in 2019 has more to do with the University of Cape Town’s academic excellence than the fact that they are the reigning champions.
‘The competition committee chooses the teams based on academic performance. They hand-pick the top academic-performing university from each continent and that is why UCT was chosen to represent Africa,’ Greenhalgh said.
Ikeys will be up against the likes of Oxford University (England), the University of British Columbia (Canada), the University of Sydney (Australia), the University of Bordeaux (France), a combined New Zealand universities XV, Siberian Federal University (Russia) and hosts Waseda University (Japan).
While Greenhalgh is weary of the threat posed by their opponents, he is adamant that the Ikey Tigers have had sufficient preparation to overcome every challenge – be it from the opposition or the weather conditions in Japan – thrown at them.
‘A lot changes in four years and I think we have to go into the tournament with an open mind and be able to adapt quickly because the other teams will have definitely improved over the past four years,’ he explained.
‘We’ll be confronted by completely different styles of game play that we haven’t played against before and that it why we have to be able to adapt and play our best in every game.’
‘We can adapt to the weather conditions in Japan. On the Green Mile at UCT, the wind pumps every day at training, so we can adapt to windy conditions. But we are also in one of the wettest parts in Cape Town and can definitely can handle wet,’ added Greenhalgh. ‘Add to that the dry conditions we experience in summer and I think it’s safe to say we can and will cope with the Japanese conditions quite well.
‘Also, we play against some of the top teams in the Varsity Cup and top club sides in Western Province’s Super League A and that was good preparation. The level of rugby that we’ve been playing against this season has prepared us quite nicely for what’s to come. It’s going to be quite interesting.’
Greenhalgh has been playing for Ikeys since 2016 and captained the side in their recently concluded Super League A campaign, where they finished a commendable second behind arch-rivals Maties.
And as one of the co-captains for the World University Rugby Cup, the post-graduate Marine and Environmental Law student has been retained in UCT’s core leadership group.
‘I’ve had my fair amount of time here. Four years to be exact,’ he joked. ‘In all honesty, I’m not really thinking too much about it [captaincy]. My leadership style is just go by example. I’m just going to give it my all and I’m sure the rest of the team will do their best as well and that is all I can hope for.
‘Including myself, there’ll be four people in the squad who have captained the team this season. The others are Nama Xaba, Josh Moon and Nyasha Tarusenga. We won’t be short of any leadership at the tournament.’
With the tournament running from 16-23 September and coinciding with the first round of World Cup matches, arrangements have been made for the Ikeys squad to attend South Africa’s opening match against arch-rivals New Zealand in Yokohama. Greenhalgh says the excitement levels within the squad are at a high.
‘We can’t wait to feel the energy and the vibe, everyone is absolutely ecstatic. We are going to go watch the Springboks’ opening match against the All Blacks, which is a massive bucket-list item of mine.
‘I haven’t seen the Bokke play live yet, I haven’t seen a haka and I haven’t seen a World Cup game, so I’m so looking forward to it. I’m lucky that all three will be rolled into one, it’s amazing.’
Photo: Kevin Sawyer/Varsity Sports