Hey guys here are a few things I would like to see change at under-18 Craven Week, the premier national youth week (and it’s tag along Academy Week). Perhaps you have something to add to the list as well.
- Televise Saturday games
Everything is setup for the camera crew from early morning on the main field but Supersport chooses to only broadcast the unofficial final in the afternoon. Even if it’s not a live broadcast, wouldn’t it be great if the all the other Saturday main field matches could be recorded and shown in a later time slot.
- Allow other broadcasters in
I think most of us are grateful to Supersport for the high quality full 4-day plus the final package they produce, but with so much happening on the other fields with Academy Week and Saturday Craven Week games, it’s a day and age where we should reasonably expect to be able to watch these other matches. An idea for DSTV would be to on-demand stream games on the struggling Showmax platform – I imagine with interest generated, it would comfortably end up paying for itself.
- Flexibility and equal rest
Traditionally Craven Week is split into two match day groups with a defined knock-out type path to the unofficial final main game on the Saturday.
This year that path is:
To me a better setup would be to have all the identified semi-final and final candidates playing on the same matchdays, namely Day 1 and Day 3, with the other teams competing on Day 2 and Day 4.
That way it would ensure the same amount of rest time between the match days for teams likely to play each other on the Saturday. It would also improve the flexibility of match-ups . An example would be the unbeaten Free State team of 2017, who were not initially identified on a path to the final but showed the form and results worthy of them being rerouted to stand a chance of playing in that 2017 final.
- Play Craven Week a week earlier
If Craven Week took place in the second week of the July school holidays, it may limit individual union preparations by a week but it would have a benefit of freeing up the final week of the holidays to be used as a camp for prospective SA Schools players. They would be invited to stay on while their teammates travelled back home.
Amongst the concerns last year was the inadequate preparation time for SA Schools which along with the questionable selections and the coaching choice, resulted in a bit of a disastrous under-18 international campaign. Fortunately the coaching has been seen to with a top notch coach taking the reins, so a bit more work on building cohesion and seeing to the right team selections are made would be great. SARU has to remember that although we have a fantastic infrastructure, culture for school level rugby and an abundance of quality players, our Northern Hemisphere rivals have caught up and are starting to overtake us in terms of under-18 level preparation. Outside the box thinking and smarter systems are going to be vital to ensure SA doesn’t fall behind.
- Tackling award
Last year I blogged about it here: (click on it to get to the full post)
The stats showed that more than a point a minute was scored. A lot of knowledgeable rugby people will tell you Craven Week isn’t the tournament it was nor is it a showpiece of best talent on offer because there are simply too many substandard players being picked. With a leaky defence slash jersey-grabbing stat like 70+ points per match, it’s easy to understand why. The new structure that gives the Bulls, Lions and WP an extra team each while other perceived weaker teams were relegated to Academy Week status was one positive in the attempt to up the quality. Also hopefully with the heavier fields of Paarl that open-gates stat will come down a bit and provide more balanced rugby. The organisers really need keep challenging themselves to find ways of improving the quality of rugby. Perhaps encouraging or rewarding good defending would be a step in the right direction.
- Reward Academy Week and second choice SA Schools players
With Italy withdrawing from the under-18 international series last year, the SA Schools B team fell away. It was a pity. It looks unlikely that there will be a B-team this year either. I think it would serve a worthy reward if an SA Schools B team could take on an Academy Week XV as a curtain raiser to one or two of the under-18 international match days coming up. As things stand, it is difficult to understand the role of Academy Week. I’ve often wondered if SARU shouldn’t scrap it in favour of an under-17 youth week (with the possibility of limited under-18 involvement).
Obviously for many the biggest problem levelled at Craven Week is the quota system, which is perceived to be unfair amongst other things, and which ultimately reduce the event from what it was intended to be to what it is. It’s a valid argument that if selections are not purely based on merit, you can’t expect to have a top class tournament.
However in terms of it’s transformation objective, the quota system has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success. Personally I’ve always liked the transparency of it. There are a clear-cut set of rules to abide by. You might not like them but at least you know them. I think it would have been a lot more frustrating and difficult to accept if this information was not readily available or if there was an attempt to create some sort of artificial reality.
Anyway share your thoughts and suggestions for improving Craven Week. Obviously the officiating is also a big deal as we see a development path being laid out in this respect as well.
Bottomline enjoy Craven Week for what it is. It’s not the start of the process, neither is it the end of the line for aspiring rugby players, but it is a defining event in their young careers.