Border aim to build on their unbeaten run at this year’s U18 Craven Week, writes DYLAN JACK.
Border’s unbeaten U18 Craven Week campaign, their first since 2009, showed the region remains a hotbed of rugby talent.
Their recent achievements are all the more impressive when considering their poor run at last year’s festival, where they lost all three games while conceding 148 points. This year, at Paarl Boys’ High, Border scored 153 points while only letting in 46.
‘We wanted to restore pride in the region,’ Border U18 head coach James Winstanley tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘We are traditionally a powerhouse of schoolboy rugby, but had fallen off the radar recently, so we wanted to restore our reputation.’
Sadly, cash-strapped Border are unlikely to benefit from their Craven Week revival, with the majority of those players expected to further their careers at other unions.
Border’s situation is hardly helped by their on-field performances. They won just three of their seven Currie Cup First Division matches last year and two out of eight in this year’s Provincial Rugby Challenge.
Border players can aim to play for the Kings in the Pro14, but just six have been included in the squad for the 2018-19 season.
‘In the absence of a vehicle to retain these players, the majority of them will leave for universities and provinces elsewhere in the country,’ Winstanley says.
Flyhalf David Coetzer – who played for the Junior Springboks this year – was among a host of players from last year’s Craven Week squad who joined the Western Province or Sharks academies, while flank Chris Cloete and prop Allan Dell, who were key members of the unbeaten 2009 side are now overseas.
‘The onus is on SA Rugby to create a viable academy and university option,’ Winstanley says. ‘NMU [Nelson Mandela University] will play in the Varsity Shield next year [after being relegated from the Varsity Cup], so there is no university in the Eastern Cape playing in the top tier. If Walter Sisulu University can earn promotion to the Varsity Cup, they would stand a good chance of attracting these players.’
Border may not be able to retain players from this year’s U18 Craven Week, but the team’s performances are worth celebrating. They hammered Limpopo (68-17) and the Griffons (52-12) to earn a tough fixture with Free State on the final day.
‘For most of the first half, we ran too much from our own territory,’ Winstanley recalls. ‘We were keen to take them on at the expense of field position. However, once we got field position, we scored two tries just before half-time, which changed the game.’
Border went on to claim a convincing 33-17 win against the Grey College-laden team. While some believed Border deserved to play in the unofficial final against Western Province, assistant coach Phiwe Nomlomo understands why the organisers opted for the Sharks instead.
‘How the team performed the year before plays a part in their decision and Border lost all three matches,’ he says. ‘Unions that are consistently good over a long period are rewarded when fixtures are drawn up, and the Sharks played in last year’s unofficial final. Border will have a good chance of being selected for next year’s final if we win our first two matches.’
How did Border manage to turn things around at Craven Week level so quickly? Winstanley says building their squad around a core of Selborne players was a big factor.
‘A lot of people were unhappy with the composition of the squad, but it was a deliberate attempt to work with the strongest school in the province. When it came to a split decision between two players we decided to go the continuity route, which proved successful.’
Winstanley believes Border can build on their Craven Week performance.
‘We are going to meet with the coaches of the Border Grant Khomo, Academy and Craven Week sides and identify the top 35 players in the region. They will have the same conditioning programmes, so all of the players are at more or less the same level and not just those from Selborne.
‘We will also need to align the three sides as far as strategy is concerned, so that next year’s U16 players will be familiar with the game plan if they go on to play for the U18s.
‘That way we can ensure a better future for Border schools rugby.’
BORDER U18 CRAVEN WEEK RESULTS (2009-2018)
Beat VALKE 15-10
Beat GRIQUAS 17-15
Beat PUMAS 41-14
Lost to FREE STATE 13-35
Lost to VALKE 22-26
Lost to EP 20-34
Beat GRIQUAS CD 33-12
Lost to WP 26-42
Beat SWD 40-22
Lost to GOLDEN LIONS 14-29
Lost to FREE STATE 9-14
Lost to LIMPOPO 7-20
Beat NAMIBIA 38-20
Beat BOLAND 37-19
Lost to SHARKS 14-77
Lost to GRIFFONS 20-47
Beat LIMPOPO 78-17
Beat GRIQUAS 55-26
Beat PUMAS 32-28
Lost to BOLAND 15-20
Beat VALKE 28-15
Lost to BLUE BULLS 15-48
Lost to SWD 19-21
Beat BOLAND 64-26
Lost to GOLDEN LIONS 8-44
Lost to LIMPOPO 41-59
Lost to BLUE BULLS 40-45
Beat LIMPOPO 68-17
Beat GRIFFONS 52-12
Beat FREE STATE 33-17
RECENT BORDER U18 CRAVEN WEEK EXPORTS
Tango Balekile (Eastern Province)
Simon Bolze (Eastern Province)
David Brits (Western Province)
Chris Cloete (Munster)
David Coetzer (Western Province)
Allan Dell (Edinburgh/Scotland)
Sipho Dlongodlongo (Sharks)
Johannes Jonker (Golden Lions)
Leon Lyons (Western Province)
Johan Meyer (Zebre)
Khwezi Mona (Pumas)
Joshua Stander (Stormers)
Courtney Winnaar (Sharks)
Saida Xamlashe (Shimlas)
– This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine.