A group of students kicking a rugby ball about on the Green Mile was the perfect backdrop to the opening of UCT's Neville Isdell Rugby Centre on 31 July.
Neville Isdell, a UCT alumnus and former CEO of Coca-Cola, had donated US$1 million to the rugby club in 2011 '“ money that was originally intended to fund a better stadium.
"When we stopped and looked at what we could do, what we should do, and what would make the most sense, it turned out that the need was not something that would be a praise song to a donor, as a stadium might have been '“ can you imagine the 'Neville Isdell Stadium'? '“ but something that would have the maximum impact on the team," said UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price at the opening. "That was decent change rooms, a place to have prep talks, a physio room, and a place where you could host the other team."
So the old change rooms at the bottom of the Sports Centre on Upper Campus were transformed into a bright and big space where players could prepare for games in comfort.
Visitors walking into the roomy new space will see a wall plastered with images and tales of UCT's rugby glories over the past decades.
"You'll notice that there are no defeats reflected," quipped Price. "I think that this 'Wall of Glory' is going to achieve the same thing that a named stadium would do, because this is a most inspiring wall, and a most intimidating wall."
Price thanked Isdell on behalf of the entire university: "It's not just that [Isdell] has made an extremely generous donation; it's also that that sends a signal to the teams, the players, of the fact that ... the old ways haven't left. It's also that he joins a particularly strong group of old boys who have been the backbone of this club."
Isdell cited his own time as a UCT rugby player (he played on the flank in 1965) as a reason for his donation: "We all look back on our lives at the pivotal moments; we look at the things that matter, and as I have looked back on mine, rugby to me was always very, very important."
This was because of the "camaraderie" he experienced as part of UCT's rugby team in 1965.
UCT's stunning comeback to win the 2014 FNB Varsity Cup in April made the launch of the Rugby Centre all the more poignant.
Michael Botha, vice-captain of the Varsity Cup-winning side, was grateful for the new facility, which he described as "miles better than the bit of a bombshell that we had before".
Price thanked UCT's sports administration, in particular manager of sports and recreation Jonathan Stones, for orchestrating the upgrade, and said he hoped that the new facility would inspire future generations of rugby players.
Story by Yusuf Omar. Image by Je'nine May.
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