The tried and tested format at Craven Week is amongst other considerations and objectives to work towards two teams, one from the Day 1 group and the other from the Day 2 group, meeting in Saturday’s unofficial final. This means that the main matches on days 3 and 4 have to more or less serve as semi-finals.
In the Day 2 group, the path forward seems very clear. There will a titanic Day 1 battle involving WP and the Bulls. Many believe that these two teams are the strongest at Craven Week 2012. Draws in rugby are fairly rare, so discounting the possibility of one, either the Bulls or WP will progress and probably meet another high-flying team, the champions of 2008 South Western Districts, in Thursday’s main game or “semi-final”.
In the Day 1 group things are definitely not as straightforward. There’s a feeling that the Golden Lions are the best team here and should rightfully be handed the toughest match-up on Wednesday. Unfortunately the Lions face a weakened Border team that will offer minimal resistance on the first day. The predicted one-sided outcome of this game will make it difficult to gauge the true strength of the Lions. Their possible Day-3 opponents could be any one of three teams because the Boland-Griquas, Free State-KZN and EP-Valke games are all interesting contests that could go either way.
In recent years being drawn to play against the mighty Greystaat on Day 1 at Craven Week would have been the kiss of death. The Free State recipe for success is based on being able to pick the majority of their teams for their Bloemfontein rugby factory in Jock Meiring Street aka Grey College. Here high calibre players, many of whom have the words “Springbok in the making” written all over their rugby DNA are in abundance most of the time. Free State would then fill the few remaining spaces in the 22-player squad with Louis Botha players. So before any Craven Week campaign even got underway, Greystaat as they are affectionately known, ticked two huge boxes under the heading of “Ingredients for Craven Week Success”, namely quality players and combinations that know one another well. This season is however a little different. Grey College are still a formidable force in SA SBR but they are by no means the top dogs and in comparison to previous years they seem to lack depth in terms of true quality. The result is only eleven Grey College boys form part of this year’s Craven Week squad and they carry with them to Port Elizabeth an unfamiliar label of “very beatable”.
For Kwazulu-Natal, the hearsay that Free State 2012, their first round opponents have been downgraded from the usual joint favourites status to contenders with a chance, has to be good news. Things are looking up for the Soutie team in terms of getting off to a winning start. It is however one of those year’s in which winning a big game like this might not be enough. If they do win, KZN have to hold thumbs that the organisers/selectors saw enough promise in their play to match up against the Golden Lions in a repeat of last year’s “semi-final”. The winner of a game like this would stand an extremely good chance of featuring in Saturday’s main match. Not getting the Lions gig wouldn’t be the end of the world though. It would in all likelihood result in a clash with another unbeaten team on Day 3 and a convincing winning performance might just persuade the powers that be that KZN are more deserving of a place in the final. If not, chances are good that KZN could come up against the losers of the Bulls-WP match in Saturday’s penultimate game.
But before even dreaming of a place in the final, for KZN the first objective is obviously to beat the young Cheetahs. Historically KZN are not strong enough to discard the efforts of even a weakened Free State team.
Day 1 , 09 July 2012:
08.30 : Leopards 36 Namibia 29
10.00 : Boland 16 Griquas 12
11.30 : Golden Lions 29 Border 14
13.00 : KwaZulu-Natal 48 Free State 24
14.30 : Opening Ceremony
15.30 : Eastern Province 41 Valke 17
Day 2, 10 July 2012:
09.30 : Zimbabwe 31 Border Country Districts 9
11.00 : Griquas Country Districts 27 Eastern Province Country Districts 28
12.30 : South Western Districts 46 Limpopo 18
14.00 : Pumas vs Griffons
15.30 : Western Province vs Blue Bulls