BENEDICT CHANAKIRA looks at four teams who should be in contention for the U18 Craven Week ‘final’ this year.
Western Province will be looking to reach their fourth ‘final’ in six years. They have made three in the past five years and won them comfortably; beating the Lions 45-29 in 2013, Eastern Province 95-0 in 2015 and the Lions 27-20 last year. WP, who have five schools in the top 10 of the Rugby365 rankings, will go into this year’s tournament as favourites. No 1-ranked Paarl Boys’ High and No 6-ranked Paarl Gym each have five players in the team. Paarl Boys’ No 8 Francke Horn, Paarl Gym fullback Muller du Plessis and SACS and WP scrumhalf and captain Vusile Dlepu will be the players to watch in a side that has ample talent, hunger and desire. An opening game against the Pumas will allow WP to set the tone and send out a message to the rest of the field.
The Golden Lions have contested three finals in the past five years and lost all three; 46-0 to the Bulls in 2012, 45-29 to Western Province in 2013 and 27-20 to WP last year. Centre Wandile Simelane shone brightly for the Lions last year and earned SA U20 selection this year. In 2017, the Lions will rely on the Mpeku brothers, Bonianga (fullback) and Leon (outside centre). The KES duo are quick, evasive and have silky handling skills, while also holding their own in defence. KES have seven players in the squad, including No 8 Travis Gordon, with seven from Monument, including scrumhalf Tinus Combrinck. The Lions will open their account against a tricky Border side that will be dominated by Selborne College players. The battle between Gordon and Adam Mountford is one to watch. Both No 8s are strong ball-carriers and dominant figures on defence. Expect the Lions to put in a good enough run to meet WP in the ‘final’ and this time, win it.
The Blue Bulls have not made an U18 Craven Week ‘final’ since 2012. With a strong squad, they will be hoping to rediscover their form and dominance this year. The team is brimming with talent from Affies and Waterkloof (six players from Waterkloof and seven from Affies). Affies’ Marnus Potgieter and Zan Briel will be in the midfield, with Waterkloof pivot Ulrich Maritz orchestrating the Bulls’ play. An opening fixture against KwaZulu-Natal will be defining for both sides, as the loser will fall out of contention for the ‘final’.
A Grey College-dominated Free State will take on Boland in their opening fixture. Like the Bulls, Free State’s performances at Craven Week have dipped. While they thrashed the Valke (68-26) and Leopards (86-19) last year they were put to the sword by the Blue Bulls (74-8). Free State will be hoping to unleash their talented backline this year. Fullback David Kriel, and centres Janco van Heyningen and Rikus Pretorius, will be the most dangerous players for Free State. They may not have enough firepower from their forward pack to dominate Craven Week, but you can expect some exciting plays from their backs.