KZN Sharks Main Trials 2022 players

KZN main trials for the 2022 Craven Week and Academy Week takes place this week.


Selectors are blessed for choices in the backline. Here star outside centre Lili Bester (College) has been given an exemption until the end of the month to recover from an ankle injury. In any other recent season before this one, having the quality of either Tholithemba Sibisi (DHS) or Michal de Beer (Hilton) in this no.13 position would have been a privilege, as they both good players. They are testimony to the depth chart this year.

In spite of the talent pool, the decisions at 10, 12, 14, 15 and by consequence 11 may have already been made by the formbook.

The areas of careful attention are likely to be scrumhalf where there isn’t much to separate the trialists and backup flyhalf. For the former, it might have been worth keeping Westville halfback Lwethu Mdabe in contention. For the latter some of the makeshift options have not worked out in that role. One of the harder parts of being a selector is picking the bench. Some thought has to go into how to make up a fully functional, cover all the permutations squad for the three matches.

Whatever the choices are, there are bound to be some unlucky backs who are good enough to go to Craven Week (and/or Academy Week).


One of the things KZN has not been the best at is information gathering from past experiences. In 2018, Craven Week was in the Western Cape. The KZN Sharks did ever so well to make the final that year. The fields there are wet and heavy underfoot during July. So when conditions got unfriendlier, the light mobile pack got bullied into submission during the main game. So it is worth trying to pick players that are not going to come up short in the physical collisions. We witnessed a bit of that at this year’s Wildeklawer as well.

Really the name penned in first should be that of Thomas Dyer (Hilton), the Billy Vunipola like no.8 who has impressed with his exceptional ball-carrying ability, making him if not the best in his position in SA this year, than amongst certainly one of the leading candidates for SA Schools in that role.

Interestingly young Michaelhouse no.8 Dwayne Mlaba has also been a head-turner with some outstanding performances. It would be good if selectors could reward his form with at least a place on the bench.

Lock Jack Waterhouse (Hilton) is another player who has shown enough pedigree in his role to earn a starting berth. The other lineout jumping options might still be up for grabs.

For loosehead prop there are good prospects and its hard to see any wrong choices here based on the game-time evidence. The same goes for the blindside flank. There are some useful players to choose from. Before his injury, Fortune Mpofu excelled for Michaelhouse and hopefully there is still a window of opportunity for him to be considered for one of the teams. A surprising omission is that of Kearsney warhorse Jason Brien, who is physically tough and consistent.

The other choices will be far harder to make, starting with the national concern position – tighthead prop. Since KZN has been running a high performance initiative where they have had opportunity to work with players and assess them, if selections for this vital role that don’t pan out at Craven Week, it won’t go down well. One of the ignored processes of selection should be to rate and identify any selector who is doing a kak job and get rid of him before the next year. Feel the pressure to get it right because the resources have been provided along the way.

Assuming the players are in-form, the Craven Week success ingredient is cohesion.  It’s possible to beat teams containing better individuals though better understanding and teamwork. However there never appears to be enough time to adequately prepare the team, so it boils down to solid fundamentals mixed with individual ability. Two key areas that selectors should try to cover are lineout success and breakdown pilfering. For lineouts, having hookers who are competent at throw-ins cannot be stressed enough.  The ability to steal opponent balls on the ground is a shared role these days, with even a few backs showing they have the technique and timing to do it well. Make sure this box is ticked though.

Hooker is one of the hotly contested positions. It was surprising to see the Michaelhouse captain Andrew Davis reduced to a trial reserve but hopefully the selectors are dialed in and know what they are looking for in this specialist position.

No one has really grabbed the bull by the horns to be considered a clear-cut favourite at openside flank. If one looks around the country, the love affair with a Heinrich Brussow type isn’t as strong as it once was. Picking a kid who gives you something in terms of workrate on defence as well as can carry a bit without getting dominated, is perhaps the way to go.


Apologies for any names left out


  1. Hi Beet. Are you involved with the trials or kzn schools Rugby in any way?

  2. @Jakkals: Hi, no not involved in any way.

    The selectors and coaches and Sharks who will all have a say are listed here.

    Looking at the u18 guys where the focus is, one can see that everyone there has a fairly long service track record as a coach. More than enough to know what each role requires and form independent opinions and make good choices.

  3. @beet is that Zuki Tom from Grey HS now with Glenwood? When/how/why did that happen? He was at Northwood in u14, and then went to Grey, and was playing 1st team this year already. How has he ended up at Glenwood suddenly? Powerful player.

  4. @Skywalker: Yes indeed. Glenwood has a new Tom.

    He transferred from Grey High a few weeks ago. Its believed the reason is unhappiness over being asked to play wing when he felt his calling was to be a no.6.

    It goes to show how times have changed. A few years ago a move like this would have sparked controversy in KZN because by playing against Westville on Saturday albeit for a few minutes of 1st XV action, it broke an existing Headmaster’s Agreement to do with the eligibility of players who join KZN schools after a cutoff date (March I think) and if he stays on until next year his selection comes up against the main Marnegate HMA governing u19 players.

    Its probably a good thing the headmasters are meeting. It’s probably worth their while to amend the agreements. For one I think the motive should be to limit the participation of a player who has the likeness of a post-matric of old.

  5. Wow, well good to have him back in KZN at least. Would have preferred him in a NW jersey though :). Anyway was wondering about the Headmasters agreements etc. So everyone was OK with this?
    So are all the KZN headmasters meeting to discuss? public schools only?

  6. Since the original “headmaster’s agreement” was signed, I think about 5 or 6 heads have changed (possibly even more – DHS, GW, NW, West, MH, MC come to mind.) Although the signatories were there representing their schools, I know of at least two that have openly mentioned they are not beholden to it. I also think it’s purpose at the time of signing has changed and should be re-looked.

  7. Some interesting observations:
    Looks like KZN teams will have the highest ratio of Private schools in the school representation, i.e. 5 out of the 10 schools are private, the others are so-called Model C schools. This is a much higher proportion than any other provincial union in South Africa if I’m not mistaken.

    In addition, it looks like every single one of the teams (possibly excluding Clifton, who do not supply many players though) are Boys-only schools. Now although some of the best rugby schools are Boys schools, I don’t think any other provincial team will be 100% Boys schools.

    Why does this matter? On both above counts KZN is statistically an anomaly in SA rugby. While the KZN Craven week / academy / Khomo week teams might perform well some years, the game is stagnating in KZN. This despite the big money being pumped into the Sharks…The Sharks senior teams have always had to import talent from other parts of the country, and we even see this method reflected at school level, e.g. Glenwood and DHS.

    Boys schools produce a lot of the rugby talent, but SA rugby cannot afford to have the game confined to only those schools, and more especially to the private schools.

    What do you guys think?

  8. @Kaya 85: you’re now opening a debate that probably has no clear and obvious ending. Some observations (and I have been quite closely involved in one of the schools you mention 8)) The harsh reality facing KZN is that the absolute pool of talent available locally is simply getting too small to support the number of schools that we have in KZN. This is a combination of emigration and semi-gration as people head out of KZN to places where there are more career opportunities – CT and Jhb. Another hard truth we have to face is that we simply don’t produce the big, bruiser forward on a regular basis whereas the Jhb and to a lesser degree the CT schools have those in truckloads – just look at the size of the packs (mainly from Afrikaans schools) playing at the festivals. There is no better schoolboy rugby playing country in the world, we produce more quality players than other and as a result the schoolboy game is taken (too) seriously. In order for some KZN schools to compete with the other province’s schools at various festivals, they end up having to bring the size of the players they need from those self-same provinces they are going to play against. This year, as an example there is a massive shortage of “tall timber” locks in the province this year. Not going to see certain schools changing their recruitment policy anytime soon

  9. @ICEMAN: Interesting. I would think the agreement would remain in tact regardless of the fact that the headmasters have changed. they can revisit it as a new panel, but surely the laws stay the same until such time as it is changed? How can some Heads just say it doesn’t apply to them any more? From what I understood, a player like Zuki should not be allowed to play, correct?

  10. @Kaya 85: Interesting thoughts.I think KZN do just happen to have more private all boys schools then other areas. CT for example. Apart from Bishops what other private all boys are there that compete in rugby? The private schools are mostly more new age Co Ed schools like Reddam if I am not mistaken.

    I don’t think that matters though? The privates do a great job, as do the public schools are growing the game and giving opportunity to boys to learn and play.

  11. @Kaya 85: I also don’t think the game is stagnating in KZN. Iceman is correct as are you that boys are recruited from all over to come to high schools here for rugby, but we are seeing more and more of the KZN teams in the top 10 and 20 in SA. Hilton are in the top 10 again and have been in the top 15 say for the past 3 years or so. It’s not just Glenwood who are making names form themselves in SA. That in turn raises the standard for other schools here to compete. It in turn makes Michaelhouse stronger as they play Hilton twice each year. Look at how DHS 1st team have shone this year. Northwood had a great year in 2019. I think our KZN high schools are actually getting stronger. But agree the talent is no longer just from local schools.

  12. @ForeverHorseFly: the u16 team will be hotly contested! Wow we are lucky there. DHS,NW,MBC,Michaelhouse,Kearsney, all have great teams this year. Surely lots of competition for places.

  13. @ICEMAN: I think that the proximity of the EC,Border regions are damaging development of players in the province,Do the Lasysmith ,New Caste area have any respected rugby schools ,I dont expect a Boishaai in New Castle but one should at least have a Middelburg tech/Brandwag tipe school there ,the same question applies for the Richards bay area ,are there any respectable rugga schools there….it seems like KZN schoolboy rugby is for the most part centred around Durban / Maritzburg and the two midlands private schools….it would seem easier to just reqruit from the Border than developing KZN’s rural rugby ,I might totally be wrong about this also

  14. @Maskerman: honestly, KZN rural don’t have the schools or the players. Soccer is the dominant sport here outside of the major centres, EC it’s rugby. There are just not enough good boys to fill rugby teams in 8 big rugby schools in KZN anymore

  15. @Skywalker: you are right, the agreement should stand but remember it’s not a “law” it’s simple a memorandum of understanding and it seems like certain heads are ok to put interests of their school ahead of the agreement. And I’m not talking about GW or DHs ;)

  16. @ICEMAN: thats where your whole problem lies…and development should be the priority of the sharks …they are after all the custodians of the game in KZN ,I have a feeling they are dropping the ball

  17. What has been good to see is how many KZN schoolboys have been contracted by the Sharks. People say the whole team is imports etc. There are loads of local boys in the Sharks squads right now. Just off the top of my head:
    Keron Van Vuuren, Jaden Hendrikse,Pepsi Buthelezi, Mpilo Gumede, James Venter, Fez Mbatha, Nthutuko Mchunu, Cameron Wright, Juandre Labuschagne, Dylan Richardson etc. Also already had and lost JJ Van Der Meshcht, now Sanele Nohamba, and previously of course had all 3 Du Preez boys and the likes of Pat Lambie. I know there are currently u20 boys signed from Westville, Hilton, Kearsney, Maritzburg College and prob others.

    So yes some of these boys were not born in KZN of even did primary school here but they all were at High School at least and the Sharks have done well to sign local boys as well.

  18. @Kaya 85: Yes KZN is unique in the ways you described.

    Quite some time back I did a little research project and at the time it turned out that only 6% of all the Springboks ever capped came from KwaZulu-Natal schools.

    These days we are heading towards another unusual scenario where only 6% of KZN Craven Week players come from KZN primary schools. :mrgreen:

  19. @Skywalker: There was a time prior to Jesse Kriel when the Sharks were really good at keeping the handful of awesomely talented boys that came out of local SBR in their stables. Even Warren Whiteley was in the Sharks junior setup before he joined the Lions.

    Kerron’s story is actually a great one of perseverance. He joined the Lions after finishing at Glenwood. Got cut from their junior programme. Came back to KZN to play club rugby. Didn’t give up on his dream, worked hard and made it big. Feel good story.

    Even Brad Roberts, the hooker who made his debut for Wales last year, one of my favourite to watch SBR players of all-times, was part of Sharks junior setup after he matriculated.
    Guys like Brad Barritt as well.
    I guess Sebastian Negri who has gone on to have a very productive international career with Italy is up there alongside Jesse Kriel as one that got away.
    Rocky Knox might be added to this list in a few seasons time.

  20. @Kaya 85: Many facets to this interesting debate about schools Rugby in KZN. Another aspect is Tier 2 Schools Rugby. Tier 2 or smaller schools are battling to keep their Rugby programs afloat. Many of these schools have gone from one team per age group to only one U15 and U18 team. Some are only playing 7s now. Schools like Crawford La Lucia are not playing Rugby anymore. The bigger schools are getting more professional and have more and more quality teams. They have the depth to beat smaller schools with their D teams in age groups and 5th teams in opens. Whenever a small school starts to be more professional and work at their program they start producing some talent, which is then quickly snapped up by a big Tier 1 school. It makes building something worthwhile hard. Boys with Rugby dreams and their parents know that if they want to make it in Rugby they stand a better chance at a big school. Sadly many talented boys play Bs & Cs at these schools and don’t reach their potential.

  21. @ICEMAN: Ferrum,Pionier,Sarel Cilliers and Vryheid…… always well represented in KZN country districts. KZN CD always not to shabby at youth weeks ??

  22. @Jakkals: This is where the Sharks / KZN should be focusing, investing, helping train coaches etc. even if a school has one team per age group, and a 2nd XV, that is 5 teams and it’s something worth preserving. Not every Springbok will come from a school that can field 20 teams…there is a rugby tradition in many of these tier 2 schools – by the way, it’s the same in many other parts of the country – e.g. the game I saw between two small town school teams, Piet Retief v Wolmaransstad was a fantastic game of rugby with a lot of skill, pace and passion.

  23. @Kaya 85: In Johannesburg, a Lions u18 Invitational team is selected from all the Tier 2 schools. This invitational team plays in the St John’s Easter festival and perhaps a few other games. At least it gives the Craven Week coaches a chance to see these boys playing against stronger teams. I’m surprised that KZN does not do the same thing at Kearsney, as it would help attract even more spectators.

    Also, players from the smaller schools in Pretoria and Jhb are selected to represent the Rooikatte (Pta) and the Lynx (Jhb) in the VKB rugby week held in Reitz every year. The other participating teams are mostly country district teams such as Northern Natal, Eastern Freestate, etc. A VKB festival team is normally chosen to attend an overseas tour thereafter. Jason Jenkins only started rugby in 2012, so was selected to play for the Rooikatte in 2012 as part of his development. He also made the VKB festival team and then the Bulls AW team in 2013. He then went on to play for the Bulls senior team and earned his first (and only so far) Springbok cap in 2017.

  24. @Kaya 85: We will be sending Tier 2/CD combined teams to the Reitz Week this year, which is a step in the right direction.

  25. @upcountry: 100% agreed. Apologies, it wasn’t an insult towards those schools but more my feeling that the sharks schools team haven’t given them rhe time or resources in developing them

  26. Over the years, every time there has been a trials and selection process, I’ve always wondered how it works and how they deem to get the selection right, and I’ve never got the answer – however I do know that its not an exact science.
    This time, there are some glaring abnormalities, specifically positional, so much so that I’d consider them a mistake, and which are not going to benefit the final team, which is very sad to see. However, I am too close to the action on this one so I will have to reserve my comments.
    All the best for the boys today.

  27. @Hulk: Does it matter how it happened? I honestly don’t know. I am interested, what does the agreement say? Does anyone know?

    The problem is this is all such a grey area. what constitutes being recruited?

  28. @ICEMAN: No need to apologise. My personal take on rural schools:Rural schools in NN Natal crave any exposure that they can get against Tier1 and 2 Durban schools.Funding these travels are a huge problem.Sarel Cilliers have a rugby weekend in Feb and Vryheid High an easter tournament. If the Durban schools were to support these tournaments with their lower teams for a start, the quality of rugby played would benefit the NN schools in the long run.
    NN schools does not mind losing players to poaching by Tier1 schools as it benefits the player. He must just realise that he still have to pass his maths in matric.
    The NN Natal U/16 team always play in the VKB Frankfort week and the U/19 team in the VKB Reitz week. They feature in the “final” every now and again,depending on how many players they lose to the KZN CD teams

  29. @Steve K: Ja Steve, I think more so than ever we are curious to see what the priority list is like when it comes to selections.

    These days SARU has an interest in who is selected.

    You can see the Sharks guys involved are not like the guys of old either. They are a lot more hands on and I would think they would want to use whatever influence they have to secure spots for players they have future plans for.

    Somewhere in the mix is the head coach who probably has a game plan or style of play in mind, that would advantage certain players ahead of others.

    There are the usual factors such as quota, which given KZN’s 1st XVs demographics and spread of talent now, is not the challenge it once posed when 2nd XV players had to be selected to achieve targets.

    The construction of the bench to take different scenarios into account – in the past the use of replacements was very rigid which made the selection task one where previous experience counted for a lot.

    And obviously the selectors, all of whom are not necessarily like minded in what they see or don’t see in the players.

    Is the aim to select current form players, as there have been a few boys who are in sublime form at the moment. Or should there be an attempt to reward players who have shown consistent form over a longer time. Or should it be that just the trials and nothing else must count?

    I think in the past the KZN selection process was far easier, as the core team was fairly easily identifiable. I can count instances in the past where I felt leading candidates were left out – unexplainably but for the most part the right kids got in. The difference were mainly centred around the fringe players and there were a lot of concerns that the process was neither transparent or just, supported by the hard to justify disproportionate representation by school of teams in the past.

  30. @Jakkals: Hi. Whatsapp me any time. Unfortunately I did not attend any trials. Holding thumbs that all went well and that the Sharks have put together a decent team. I’m not sure we will be the team to beat at CW but hopefully the boys give a good account of themselves.

  31. @beet: 100% Beet. As much as the powers that be try to develop a system that identifies the correct players – they will never get it right as it is just too difficult a task. In a perfect world, you want the selectors to be able to monitor all the boys, for the whole season in order to accurately gauge their abilities, which in itself is an impossible task right out the gates.
    Personally I don’t believe selecting based only off trials games, where boys get 2 x 25 minute halves, and may only get the ball once if they are lucky, is the right way to go. Throw into that a kid who has a real mare of a trials game, or who is slightly unwell on the day – it’s not going to be an accurate reflection. I’m more of a believer of selecting on previous form, even as far back as u16, but for this to happen you need a team of selectors whole pretty remain the same for years, who know the game, the schools and of course the players and can build up a history on the boys.
    There are just so many moving parts to it all, and unfortunately the only constant is that every time there will be deserving boys who will not get the nod for selection.

  32. @Steve Hi Steve. I agree. It must very difficult for all of a boy’s chances to depend on 1 afternoon of trial routines and games. As you say, he may only get the ball once or twice during those chukkas. Players also tend to hold onto the ball more in trial games. I would think that with all the good quality television coverage of games, selectors can carry out a decent amount of coverage of players performance against teams from around the country. I would think by the time the trials come round, selectors must have a good idea of who the front runners are and the trials are more of an opportunity to try out player combinations.

  33. Very difficult task to get the selections right though and there are always going to be boys who feel hard done by.

  34. All the best to all of the guys as they prepare for what I believe will be a very tough tournament for each of them. Good to see all the schools well represented as well (had a brief look, not in depth though)


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