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The ‘musician’ who conducts the rugby scrum

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LUKE ALFRED

One way or another, and Musikanth has been conducting the rugby-playing orchestra for years. Sometimes he hears the grace notes, sometimes he sees and hears an atonal mess, but whichever way you look at it, Musikanth believes he was born to search for ways to reach the higher registers.

Musikanth also recently became coach of the Israeli national rugby side, spending about six months of the year in Israel and six months back here in Johannesburg with King David Linksfield.

“Your average player there now is an Israeli, not an expat from South Africa, Australia, or the United States,” he says. “Although the national team draws players from only ten club sides, the game there is growing. Tag-rugby is becoming part of the extra-curriculum activities at schools, and I don’t think it’s going to be long before we see Israeli players turning professional.”

At the same time, Israeli rugby has some way to go before its players become household names. The difference in standard between the top two clubs and the bottom two in the ten-strong Israeli league is profound, and the national side is located in a tough European theatre that results in them playing mainly against neighbours and not-too-distant opponents such as Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, and Bosnia – who they beat 40-0 in their final friendly of the season two weeks ago.

Should Israel beat all of their neighbours, they will need to beat regional powerhouses like Georgia and Russia if they’re to have any chance of qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. They might even have to take on Spain, Portugal, and Germany at some stage of the process.

“I know Israel beat Austria in the European [Championship] soccer qualifier recently,” he says. “But after beating Bosnia, we’re now ranked 60th in the world. In a sport played by 150 countries, I don’t think that’s bad. It’s probably the highest internationally-ranked Israeli team in the world.”

Musikanth matriculated from Wynberg Boys’ High in 1996, where he was a handy flyhalf hampered by shoulder injuries. Soon the injuries became too crippling, and he needed to look for something else – preferably within the game.

“Whether I was working as a personal trainer and coaching in my spare time, or whether I was working professionally as a coach or director of rugby, I soon realised that I loved coaching. I can’t be without it,” he says.

He’s coached False Bay and Ikey Tigers (when the University of Cape Town won the Varsity Cup in 2015) as well as being the director of rugby at both Wynberg and St John’s College before taking up his most recent post at King David Linksfield. Such exposure to the game at a level largely uncovered by the media has hardened him and made him wise. “In a game fuelled by ego,” he says, “I’ve found that there’s absolutely no room for ego.”

He has big plans for the approximately 150 rugby players at the school, plans that officially kick-off for the season when the first XV take on CBC Boksburg on Thursday.

As in years gone by, King David will compete alongside schools like Northcliff and Randpark Ridge in the Pirates Grand Challenge, but they’ll also be touring KwaZulu-Natal and competing in the St Stithians Easter Festival this season. “We’ll be playing against the Michaelhouse and St Stithians 2nd and 3rd teams at the festival,” he says, “because it’s important to begin to expose the boys to some of the top rugby schools.

“Results do count,” he says later, emphasising that without them, the sport can’t grow at King David, but he’s savvy enough to also know that his brief is broader. He not only wants to improve – and strengthen, with the addition of a new gym at the school – the boys, but wants to improve the skills of the coaching staff.

“The Ikey’s side I was involved in had 13 support staff,” he says. “That might have been a little top-heavy. Rugby coaching is moving away from being a jack of all trades to increasing areas of specialisation, whether that be on attack, defence, or skills. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve here at King David.”

Come the end of the season he will head up north, to see if he can get rugby in Israel to sing.

Sasha shoots for gold

Israel’s Alexander Shatilov won the gold medal at the FIG World Cup in Doha last weekend, a remarkable achievement given that he was ranked only fourth coming into the competition. The injury-prone Shatilov (32) was born in Uzbekistan, his family moving to Israel in 2002.

Nicknamed “Sasha”, Shatilov discovered the sport when his mother, an acrobatics coach, introduced him to a gymnasium at a young age. He was the first ever Israeli gymnast to win a medal at a world championships when he won bronze for his floor routine at the World Championships in London in 2009.

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