There will always be a romanticism around Craven Week, which concludes at St Stithians College today. It’s a running rugby festival where the South African Rugby Union (Saru) proclaims “heroes are born”.
That’s fair enough because it remains the main feeder of promising young players aiming to become professionals.
But people are delusional if they think Craven Week is nowadays the first step to a competitive provincial and national system.
The standard of this year’s 54th edition has been, for want of a better word, dodgy. Out of the 20 matches that have been completed to date, a pitiful three have had a winning margin of less than 10.
There have been scores of 81-26, 72-17, 80-5 and 65-20. Everybody’s celebrating freewheeling contests like Griquas’ 60-52 win over the Valke or Free State’s 63-41 triumph against the Pumas.
Heck, the PA announcer even tried to dignify Border Country Districts 75-point loss to the Griffons by blaring: “Despite the scoreline, that match was far more competitive than you might think.”
It’s a disconcerting state of affairs. At the conclusion of day three, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee was on hand to present the man of the match award in the 13-13 draw between the Golden Lions and Western Province.
The first thing he said was that he’s “noticed” the youngsters can defend better and play in a more balanced manner.
You can hear the moaners shouting that Coetzee’s a party pooper, but he’s right. Our rugby is being seduced by the aesthetic value of attacking play, pretty much purely because of the success of the All Blacks.
It’s nothing more than populism. If your team plays pragmatic, percentage-based rugby, you are a dinosaur. It’s not cool to keep things tight.
Now, Craven Week might produce players suited for Super Rugby because it’s increasingly becoming a tournament where your marking doesn’t have to be overly accurate.
As long as you attack better than the opposition, you’ll be fine.
Test rugby is a different beast.
But wait for the outcry when we ask our schoolboys to be a little more boring …