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, currently the oldest living Springbok. 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 one 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 be 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. That did not last long.
This year things have not changed. There will be 20 teams - one from each province plus Limpopo, Border Country Districts, Griquas Country Districts, Eastern Province Country Districts, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The area most obviously left out is Northern Natal which includes Newcastle, Ladysmith, Dundee, Glencoe, Estcourt and Vryheid.
At that 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 will 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. Many provinces go to elaborate lengths to choose their Craven Week sides and generally 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. 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.
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.
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 in 2001, and Louis Mzomba who became an international referee, the first Xhosa-speaker to do so. This system was more or less adopted by SARFU/SARU as the Academy Week.
For many years two teams were chosen at the end of the Craven Week - the SA Schools XV and the SA Nampak XV, which team was chosen from the Academy Week and played against SA Schools, has been replaced by the SA Academy XV. Often they played each other. In 2006 things changed. The Academy team became the South African Schools B team and played - and beat - Italy.
In 1988, after 19 years in charge, 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 Christo Bekker of Northern Transvaal.
Later Craven Week came to fall under the United Schools Sport Association of South Africa (USSASA) under the chairmanship of Dries van Heerden of HTS Vereeniging. He was succeeded by the present chairman, Lindsay Mould, the principal of Grey Primary School in Bloemfontein, the first to chair both High Schools and Junior Schools rugby.
On 27 April 2006 Jan Preuyt died at his daughter’s house in Cathcart on 27 April 2006 He was 83 years of age, survived by his wife, Johlene, six children and nine grandchildren. His ashes were scattered at Absa Stadium, the Border Rugby Union's headquarters in East London. (The Absa Stadium was once the Border Rugby Union Ground, then the Basil Kenyon Stadium and now the Buffalo Ciry Stadium. It had sponsors' names (Waverley and Absa) twice.
In 2011 Piet Malan, whose brainchild the Craven Week is, is the oldest living Springbok. He turned 92 on 13 February 2011.
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