Craven Week, Some History
Craven Week, the greatest schoolboy rugby tournament in the world, seems to have been around forever. But like all things, it had a birth. It was a healthy birth but not universally welcomed. There were those who thought it a bad idea.
Schools and schoolmasters are conservative, which is a natural reaction to the constantly changing world in which schools exist. Some did not like the singling out of individuals. Some thought it was against the educational spirit of school sport. Some thought it smacked of professionalism. But it went ahead in 1964.
The initial idea came from Piet Malan, then 1949 Springbok flank. After all the 75th anniversary of the South African Rugby Board was due and, in Potgietersrus, Malan asked Danie Craven how schools in South Africa could figure in the celebrations. Craven’s Board decided to get the 15 schools unions together for a week. The man who picked up the idea and ran with it, on and on for many years, was Jan Preuyt, an East London schoolmaster, once a missionary in Nigeria.
At the time Jan Preuyt, an ex-Matie and a former Griqualand West player, was a teacher at Port Rex Technical School and chairman of Border Schools with Dummy Taylor of Queen’s College as the secretary. There was no such thing as a South African Schools organisation and the SA Rugby Board was not involved. Border Schools did it all.
East London then put on the first-ever Craven Week in July 1964. For many provinces it was a novelty to choose a provincial team. Western Province solved the problem by inviting its long-standing schools to nominate players and from that a team was cobbled together which did remarkably well, better in fact than some “expertly” chosen teams.
The teams taking part in the first Craven Week were Boland, Border, Eastern Province, Eastern Transvaal, Griqualand West, Natal, North Eastern Cape, Northern Transvaal, Orange Free State, Rhodesia, South West Africa, South Western Districts, Transvaal, Western Province and Western Transvaal. By 1987 there were 28 teams taking part at Craven Week. In 2000 there were 32 teams.
In 2001 the format changed again and only 20 teams took part – the 14 provinces plus Namibia and Zimbabwe and four regional teams – Eastern Coast, Western Coast, Central and Northern. It changed again after that – the 14 provinces, the neighbours and Limpopo and Border Country Districts, alias Transkei.
There is the likelihood that it will change again with expansion.
At the first Craven Week the first SA Schools committee was chosen – Jan Preuyt (chairman), Trens Erasmus (Western Transvaal), Wouter du Toit (Transvaal), Hennie Lochner (Boland) and Meyer Sauerman (Eastern Province).
In 1965 Craven Week was again held in East London, to consolidate the new foundation which very soon developed its own spirit and modus operandi.
In 1974, for the first time ever, a national schools team was chosen. This was against Danie Craven’s wishes as he wanted Craven Week to be a festival, not a competition and certainly not trials. That is why, when Australian Schools undertook their first tour in 1969, no South African Schools team was chosen.
Since 1974 a South African schools team has been chosen each year. Forget all the non-competitive stuff. There is no official winner but there is no doubt that the last match on the last day is seen as a final and the winner of that match as the Craven Week champions.
Moreover, while good behaviour is a hallmark of Craven Week, there have been repeated outbursts of bad sportsmanship, mainly as a result of provincialism.
Apart from selecting national teams, Craven Weeks have been a great hunting ground for talent scouts, from South Africa and beyond, certainly from north and east.
Provinces go to elaborate lengths to choose their Craven Week sides and have match practices against other provinces. After all, Craven Week it is a week where kudos reigns.
The next big change came in 1980 when Danie Craven forced the Craven Week organisers to open the week to all races, as had first been proposed in 1978. That was the last year in which Rhodesia participated. South West Africa would also cease to participate when the country became Namibia.
The next big change for all rugby in South Africa came about in 1992 with the fusion of the national bodies. South African rugby was united.
Right from the 1964 start there were changes in the teams attending Craven Week. The number of teams increased as new provinces were created and with the entry of teams which had been excluded for political reasons. Each year since 1980 there has been an effort to give more players a chance to take part in Craven Week. In 1996 the quota system was introduced – not universally popular but demanded by government authority.
In 1987 the old SA Rugby Board introduced a Project Tournament, which by 1991 had 16 teams taking part, all based on a quota system that was at least 50-50. In 1987 the Project Tournament’s selected team went on to play at Craven Week. In that team were Justin Swart, who later became a Springbok, Etienne Finn, who became a Springbok, and Louis Mzomba who became a provincial referee. This system was adapted as the Academy Week by South African RFU (SARFU) which later changed its name to SA Rugby Union (SARU). The Academy Week then chose a team to take part in the Craven Week, which it no longer does as the Academy Week runs parallel to the Craven Week.
In 1988 Jan Preuyt declared himself unavailable for re-election as chairman of SA Schools. His place was taken by Louis Terblanche of Western Province. In 1996 Terblanche was unavailable for re-election and was succeeded by Dr Christo Bekker of Northern Transvaal.
At one stage, Craven Week fell under the United Schools Sport Association of South Africa (USSASA) under the chairmanship of Dries van Heerden of HTS Vereeniging. Now it belongs to the South African Rugby Union along with the Academy Week, the Grant Khomo Week for Under-16 teams, the LSEN Week for learners with special edicational needs, the Under-13 Craven Week and two weeks for girls – under-18 and Under-16 – seven youth rugby weeks in all.
The seed that gentle Piet Malan sowed has grown into a big tree.
At the end of Craven Week, for some time two teams were generally chosen – the SA Schools XV and the SA Nampak XV which was replaced by the SA Academy XV. The last of these matches was in 2008, cynics saying it was because the Academy team beat the SA Schools team regularly. In fact the Academy team had won four times in six encounters. In that last match on 2008, the SA Academy XV beat SA School 41-19 in Durban in a curtainraiser to the Tri-Nations match between the Springboks and the Wallabies. There were four Springboks in that hammered SA Schools side, by the way – Siya Kolisi, Elton Jantjies, Francois Venter and Patrick Lambie.
At the end of the 2019 Craven Week, and SA Schools XV and an SA Schools A XV will be chosen take part in an August tournament with teams from England, France, Wales and Italy.
The Craven Week in 2005, the fifth in Bloemfontein, coincided with the 150th birthday of the great Grey College, and the great schools hosted it. In 2019, Craven Week is back in Bloemfontein, again hosted by Grey College.
The Craven Week for High Schools has taken place at the following venues:
1964: East London
1965: East London
1967: Cape Town
1970: Salisbury – now Harare
1978: Middelburg (Transvaal)
1979: East London
1988: Port Elizabeth
1991: East London
2000: Port Elizabeth
2005: Grey College – Bloemfontein
2009: East London
2012: Port Elizabeth
2014: Middelburg (Mpumalanga)
2015: Paul Roos – Stellenbosch
2016: Kearsney – Durban
2017: St Stithians – Johannesburg
2018: Paarl Boys’ High
2019: Grey College – Bloemfontein