The late, great Chester Williams wanted the University of the Western Cape to be regularly competing for the Varsity Cup title by 2022, writes DYLAN JACK.
Williams, who guided UWC into the Varsity Cup, passed away suddenly from a heart attack in Cape Town last year.
UWC director of sport Mandla Gagayi appointed Williams in one of his first tasks after arriving at the university in 2015. Working closely with then club chairman Phillip October as well as Thelo Wakefield, Gert Smal and Paul Treu from Western Province Rugby, they identified Williams as the best candidate to carry out UWC’s ambitions.
After being allowed to build his own side, Williams set about proving that UWC were ready for the Varsity Cup by getting his side to score 50 points in six of their nine games in 2018 as they won promotion from the Shield after demolishing WSU in the final.
‘He told us that when he started in 2015, we should be mindful of the fact that he is inheriting a team that he did not select,’ Gagayi told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘He told us not to expect too much from his first season because he needed a chance to build his own team. We understood that. In 2016, we lost the final against Wits, but that was expected.
‘So, come 2018, that was the time when he could recruit his own team. In 2018, he told us that we were going to win the Varsity Shield. But if we wanted to get into the Varsity Cup and compete, we needed to win each game by no less than 50 points. To him, that was the standard that showed we did not belong in the Varsity Shield. If we only beat these teams by three to five points, it meant that we were not ready for the Varsity Cup.
‘In 2019, when we got to Varsity Cup, the plan for the first season was to stay in the tournament. We were not going to win it, we just needed to get there and adapt. Luckily the competition at that stage was still in a two-year cycle.
‘In the second year, which is this year, he wanted us to finish in the top five. Come 2021 and 2022, he wanted us to either play in the semi-finals of the Varsity Cup or win the final. That was his plan, by 2022 he wanted us to win the Varsity Cup.’
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Given the resources that UWC have, especially when compared to bigger universities like Maties, UP-Tuks and UCT, Williams’ plan may seem ambitious. However, Gagayi details that Williams wanted to specifically target players who wanted to study at UWC.
‘His plan to ensure that happened was that we were never going to go out and buy players. We would target young players. His belief was that if a player was hungry to go to Maties, for example, that player is not strong enough, he just wants to play with the stars. He wanted to look for players who specifically wanted to come to UWC. Those players would want to make a difference. They would know that UWC is not up there and would want to be part of history.
‘His philosophy of the sport, Chester was not a traditional coach. He was what we can call a manager. To him, he was not looking at the students as just players on the field. He made sure that he knew every player’s schedule. He knew every player’s timetable. He knew when the players were writing tests or exams and he knew if a player was struggling at home. To him, they were his children. It was not just another team that he is coaching.
‘Most of his stress was about his players. If you had followed him on WhatsApp, his status was always I am available 24/7. He used to tell his players to call him, even if they were stuck somewhere at 1am. That was the kind of person he was.’
UWC entrusted the continuation of Williams’ plans to assistant coaches Lionel Langenhoven and Bolla Conradie.
‘What I am happy about currently is that the foundation that he laid has filtered through, even though he is no longer around. The team still has that discipline. What he did well was to appoint people that he knew would never betray his philosophy as his assistants. One of the biggest problems in South African rugby is that you have a head coach and assistant who think in different ways. He believed in Lionel and Bolla, if there were there, they would do the job. That’s why he allowed Lionel to coach in the Super League. I think he was looking ahead. He knew at some point, that Lionel would have to step up. Fortunately, he impressed us in the league. He finished in the top six, which we had never done.
‘That helps us. We don’t have to keep going back and saying what would Chester do. We know that Lionel is doing exactly what Chester would do.’
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images