Western Province and the Pumas were mismatched on the opening day of the U18 Craven Week in Paarl, writes THEO GARRUN.
Monday’s matches produced a feast of tries, which promptly elicited the criticism that defences were not as tight as they should have been.
I’d like to think that a combination of mismatching teams on day one, together with the boys embracing the spirit of running rugby, was responsible for Western Province scoring 11 tries against the Pumas, the Golden Lions getting seven against EP, Border getting 10 against the Limpopo Blue Bulls and the Griffons eight against the Blue Bulls XV.
The Western Province vs Pumas result was expected and it represents an example of one of the dodgy practices – allegedly – that have emerged at Craven Week in recent years: the shepherding of a favoured side into the unofficial final.
Although the main game of Craven Week is supposed to be allocated to the two teams that play the most attractive, effective rugby, the festival has become something of a knockout competition, with day one the quarter-finals, day two the semis and day three the final.
That system is undoubtedly ensuring that the two top sides get through in the end. The problem, though, is that you need eight teams for a quarter-final round and there are only five, really, with a realistic chance of emerging tops in any year: Western Province, Free State, Blue Bulls, Golden Lions and Sharks. The other three come from a group of Eastern Province, Boland, SWD and Pumas, who have a very good team from time to time and have made the ‘final’ on occasion.
It’s a symptom, of course, of the greater malaise. The good players are concentrated in a handful of ‘super’ schools, and those are not spread evenly, geographically speaking.
So, getting back to WP vs Pumas, how the fixture organisers match the teams in that first round of games can have an effect on who goes through. Nominally, they base it on last year’s rankings, but then the Golden Lions who would be ranked No 1 should have played a lower side than EP – SWD, Boland or the Pumas, for example.
Instead, the hosts (and the home side is always favoured, which is fair) were mismatched and won by 40 points, while the Lions had to negotiate a tricky hurdle against an EP side drawn from a number of top schools. Then, on day two, the Blue Bulls will face Free State in a clash that will eliminate another potential rival to Western Province, and the winner there will probably meet the Sharks on Thursday.
WP still have to beat the Golden Lions in their second game to proceed, but they are well set up for success on Saturday should they get through that one.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images