Groomed by the Green Mile for the green and gold

03 June 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Scrumhalf Nic Groom, here about to offload in the tackle against Maties in 2014, is one of several former UCT rugby players that have been called up to their national squads for the upcoming round of Test series.
Scrumhalf Nic Groom, here about to offload in the tackle against Maties in 2014, is one of several former UCT rugby players that have been called up to their national squads for the upcoming round of Test series.

With new Springbok coach Allister Coetzee calling up Nic Groom and Sikhumbuze Notshe to his squad for the upcoming Test series against Ireland, the list of former UCT rugby rock stars in the sport's top tier has swelled to nigh unprecedented numbers.

And they are not the only new Test call-ups who once stomped around the Ikey Tiger dressing room. Groom and Notshe's teammate at the Stormers, Huw Jones, has been summoned to the Scotland national team for their summer tour of Japan. The Edinburgh-born centre scored the opening try in UCT's legendary 2014 Varsity Cup final victory.

Former UCT flanker Don Armand is also poised to make his Test bow this summer (by northern hemisphere standards). Armand was called up for England after an excellent season with Premiership club Exeter. Armand followed up a nomination for the Premiership's Player of the Season award by winning his club's Supporters' Player of the Season award for 2015/2016.

Groom, Notshe, Jones and Armand are just the latest in a stream of former Ikey Tigers to make the step up to rugby's major leagues.

Ginormous Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth is a veteran of UCT's Varsity Cup-winning 2011 side. That side was coached by Kevin Foote, who now coaches the defence at Super Rugby's the Western Force in Perth. Foote's colleague at the Force, Dave Wessels, also once coached at UCT.

One player Foote mentors at the Force is backline star Marcel Brache, whom he also coached to Varsity Cup victory at UCT. Former UCT players Chris Heiberg and Frans van Wyk also ply their trade for the Force.

Huw Jones and former Ikey star Dillyn Leyds are coached by former Ikey backline boss Robbie Fleck at the Stormers, while UCT's first team is now coached by former Springbok hooker Hanyani Shimange.

Jones' centre partner at the Stormers, Damian de Allende, also made his name in the Varsity Cup with UCT and, after a sterling debut season in Super Rugby, has become a mainstay for the Springboks.

The list is long

Indeed, the list of current pro rugby players with UCT connections is a long one. From Khanyo Ngcukana, Tim Whitehead, Kyle Whyte, Sti Sithole (on loan at the Southern Kings), Chad Solomon, Cullen Collopy and Luke Stringer at Western Province, to Stormers stars Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Michael Willemse, Oliver Kebble and Nic Groom.

You may now breathe.

Around Mzansi, veteran loose forward Hilton Lobberts plays for the Cheetahs; Vince Jobo for the Valke; Shaun McDonald for Boland; Martin Muller, Ricky Schroeder and Jarryd Sage for the Lions; Neil Rautenbach for the Cheetahs and Griffons; and Marcelle Sampson for the Lions.

Champion fly half Demetri Catrakilis was lost to South African rugby but continues to represent with aplomb at French outfit Montpellier, while Michael Passaportis plays for ROC La Voulte-Valence.

North of the English Channel, Warren Seals plays for Division 1 side Mowden Park. He plays against the prodigiously talented Nick Koster, who runs out for Bristol in the same league, and Nick Fenton-Wells at Bedford, whose boot drew much applause on the Green Mile.

UCT has not been shy about supplying Sevens players, either. The brilliant Mpho Mbiyozo now coaches the Boland U20 team, with raging loose forward Kyle Brown replacing him as Blitzbokke captain, where he plays alongside Dylan Sage.

On the less muddy side of the touchline, former UCT director of rugby John Dobson coaches Western Province in the Currie Cup, Alan Solomons coaches Edinburgh in the Scotland Pro 12, Matt Turner coaches the Sri Lanka 7s, and Gareth Wright coaches at the Western Province Rugby Institute as well as with the province's U19 and U21 teams.

Dylan Rogers, Dayne Jans, Tiger Bax, Liam Slatem, Matt Rosslee and Nick Holton are all playing rugby in Hong Kong – some on professional and some on semi-professional contracts. Richard Stewart, who also scored in that final, and Mike Botha earn their keep playing professional rugby in Spain.

Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Liam Hamer-Nel /

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