With the 2019 edition of the U18 Craven Week nearly here, DYLAN JACK picks out 15 players who will be worth keeping an eye on during the tournament.
15 – Kade Wolhuter (Western Province/Paul Roos)
One of the best playmakers on the schoolboy scene, Wolhuter will undoubtedly play a big role in WP’s tournament this year. While he has started predominantly at 10 for Paul Roos this year, Wolhuter could once again shift between flyhalf and fullback, with Bishops’ Sacha Mngomezulu also in the WP squad.
14 – Sonwabo Sokoyi (Free State/Grey College)
A player with terrific speed and an eye for a gap, Sokoyi has been one of the standouts in a strong Grey College backline. Also capable of playing at fullback, Sokoyi reads the game incredibly well and has proved that X-factor for his high school’s 1st XV.
13 – Henco van Wyk (Golden Lions/Monument)
Monument’s head boy hit the ground running in 2019, helping the SA U18 Sevens team retain their title at the Capricorn Sevens in Windhoek, and has not looked back. Van Wyk shone at the World Schools Festival in Stellenbosch, scoring a hat-trick in Monnas’ victory over John McGlashan. Expect him to carry that form into Bloemfontein.
12 – Mntungwa Mapantsela (Border/Selborne)
Captain of Selborne, Mapantsela has seen his excellent form rewarded with a call-up to Border’s U18 squad. The inside centre has played a role in plenty of tries scored by Selborne’s deadly backline in 2019.
11 – Ian Small-Smith (Free State/Grey College)
Starting the season at wing, but being utilised more at outside centre, Grey College’s head boy and captain is a slippery customer who reads the game incredibly well. The younger brother of Cheetahs’ centre William, Ian has the pace to exploit any gaps the defence may leave open. Despite his diminutive stature, he is more than capable of handling those well above his weight.
10 – Sacha Mngomezulu (Western Province/Bishops)
Another who played for the SA U18 Sevens, Mngomezulu has been a big part of Bishops’ excellent 2019 season so far. The flyhalf is well schooled in Bishops’ free-flowing style of running rugby, and will potentially play back-up to Wolhuter for WP. When he gets the chance to start, don’t be surprised if he takes it.
9 – Liam Kloosman (Western Province/Bishops)
The other half of Bishops’ exciting halfback pair, Kloosman is a live wire behind the pack, always testing the opposition’s pillar defence with darting runs. The scrumhalf may still have work to do on his kicking game, but as a running scrumhalf there are few better on the schoolboy scene.
8 – Izan Esterhuizen (Golden Lions/Monument)
A human wrecking ball, Esterhuizen was part of a powerhouse Lions loose trio, including former high school teammates Franco Schutte and Tristan Dullisear in 2018. This year, Esterhuizen has taken on more of a leadership role for the Monnas’ 1st XV, with both Schutte and Dullisear having matriculated. The No 8 suffered an injury at the World Schools Festival at the beginning of this year, but will still shine for his provincial side at Grey College.
7 – Jarrod Taylor (Border/Selborne)
Part of the Border team that went unbeaten last year, Taylor is a player who thrives in the contact situation, loving every carry and hit he gets to make. Taylor was one of five players selected for SA Schools in 2018, so brings plenty of experience to the table in a Border squad that will once again be filled with his Selborne teammates.
6 – Sasko Ndlovu (KZN/Northwood)
Not as much of a household name on the schools scene as some of the other players on this list, Samukelo ‘Sasko’ Ndlovu has led Northwood’s 1st XV excellently as the Durban schools has gone on to record famous victories over Maritzburg and Kearsney in 2019. Ndlovu has been a physical presence for Northwood all year and will add plenty of grunt to the KZN U18 team in July.
5 – Dylan de Leeuw (Western Province/Paul Roos)
The lanky lock has had a frustrating start to the year with Paul Roos, but remains one of the most talented in his position in his age group. De Leeuw’s game reminds one of a young Pieter-Steph du Toit. He is a kingpin at the lineouts, but also more than comfortable when asked to carry.
4 – Cullen Opperman (Border/Selborne)
The big second-rower will be playing in his first U18 week, but can be a big part of Border’s results. Opperman has picked up a bit of a reputation as a try-scorer for the Selborne 1st XV this year, having scored a memorable intercept try in the derby against Queen’s in April. Look to him to provide some of Border’s grunt this year.
3 – Blaine Golden (KZN/Glenwood)
The 118kg unit has been outstanding in a tough season for a young Glenwood side in 2019. That Golden possesses a good passing game makes him ideal for the open clashes that we may see in this year’s Craven Week.
2 – Keagan Blanckenberg (Western Province XV/Bishops)
A Dane Coles-esque hooker, Blanckenberg could easily have forced his way into WP’s 1st Craven Week squad, such have been his performances for Bishops this year. Blanckenberg can often be seen taking up similar positions out wide as the aforementioned All Black does, while he is terrific to watch with ball in hand.
1 – Lukhanyo Vokozela (Western Province/Rondebosch)
One of the younger players on this list, Vokozela has come from humble beginnings to make the Rondebosch 1st XV and WP in his Grade 11 year in 2019. Vokozela possesses a tireless engine which propels him into tackle after tackle, while he has been powerful in the carry for Rondebosch throughout their 2019. A role with WP will be an excellent learning curve for the youngster.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images