The last pre-Craven Week preparation games of eight of the inland provinces will take place at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Saturday. THEO GARRUN reports.
The Northern Unions Day is a long-standing interprovincial festival with a 45-year history. It was initially staged for the rugby provinces that were located within the old Transvaal political boundary. Free State, Griquas and KwaZulu-Natal have also been sending teams to the event for many years, and the overall number of teams participating has shrunk as the SA Rugby provinces were amalgamated.
This year there are only four games involving U18 Craven Week teams as two other regulars have pulled out due to financial constraints.
The hosts, the Pumas, will play in the final game of the day against the Limpopo Blue Bulls, but the main interest will be on the two games preceding that: Sharks vs Blue Bulls at 11am and Golden Lions vs Free State at 12:20pm.
The Golden Lions and Sharks contested the main game at last year’s Craven Week in Johannesburg, with the Lions winning 45-18. Saturday’s matches will give an indication of the likelihood of them featuring prominently this year again.
The Golden Lions have a difficult task. They are up against a Free State side that has 15 Grey College boys in its 23-man squad, four of whom were at last year’s Craven Week. Grey are unbeaten so far this season and are currently ranked second in the land by most pundits. The Lions squad has 10 Jeppe boys in the squad, and seven from Monument. There are just three members of last year’s successful Craven Week team back this year.
Jeppe don’t play many of the big guns of South African schools rugby, so it’s difficult to place them on the overall pecking order, while Monument – by their standards – have not had a very successful season.
The Sharks team is dominated by Glenwood boys, with 12 of them in the squad. It’s also an experienced team, with eight of last year’s Craven Week squad back in 2018. Glenwood are unbeaten this season – they have a showdown with Grey College coming up on 4 August – and are a top-five ranked team nationally.
The Blue Bulls squad is dominated by three schools: Menlopark and Garsfontein have seven representatives each and Affies six. There are three players back from last year, including SA Schools centre Diego Appolis. Affies are having, for them, an ordinary season while neither Menlopark nor Garsfontein feature near the top of the rankings.
So, on paper, there should be wins for Free State and the Sharks. And in the other games, the Transvalia-dominated Valke and the Pumas should come out on top.
Rugby, though, is played on grass. This weekend should be a good Craven Week appetite whetter.
Mbombela Stadium A field
8:30am – Free State U16 vs Golden Lions U16
9:40am – Valke vs Griquas
11am – Sharks vs Blue Bulls
12:20pm – Free State vs Golden Lions
1:40pm Pumas vs Limpopo Blue Bulls
Mombela Stadium B field
9am – Pumas Country Academy vs Sharks Academy
10:15am – Pumas Urban Academy vs Sharks Country Academy
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images