The July school holidays have become synonymous with interprovincial rugby at schools level. The staging of the Coca-Cola Youth Weeks by SA Rugby over a three week period puts the spotlight squarely on the future generations of rugby heroes.
In June and July this year the Coca-Cola under-13 Craven Week was held in Durban; followed by the Coca-Cola under-18 Academy Week and Coca-Cola under-16 Grant Khomo Week, held simultaneously in Wellington and Pretoria, respectively; and the next week, the flagship of the programme: the Coca-Cola under-18 Craven Week, staged in Middelburg, Mpumalanga.
The staggering of the age groups is intentional. Starting with the primary school players at under-13 level and continuing through the under-16s to the under-18 week, opportunities are being created for players to perform on a bigger stage at crucial stages in their development.
At the same time, SA Rugby's selection committees are able to do some early identification of the talent available, and to track the progress of those players as they mature.
The 2014 weeks showed that the system is working, and that there is plenty of potential, at every stage of the development pipeline. The Coca-Cola South African Schools team that was selected at the end of the process reflects this success. Just about all of those players played in the earlier weeks as well, and most of them had been identified at a younger stage and were on the radar of SA Rugby's high performance system.
As far as results go, 2014's Coca-Cola Youth Weeks season definitely belonged to Western Province. There are deliberately no official winners in these weeks, but everyone knows that the top two sides are traditionally matched in the final games of the respective tournaments and Western Province played in, and won the last games at the under-13 Craven Week, the Grant Khomo Week and the under-18 Craven Week.
They were less successful at the Coca-Cola under-18 Craven Week where the honour of playing in the main game went to two provinces that don't often appear there: Eastern Province and South Western Districts. EP won that game convincingly and, on the basis of the quality of rugby they played all week, they thoroughly deserved the title of unofficial champions of SA Schools rugby.
At the end of the Under-18 Craven Week a squad of 50 players was chosen and, after a trial match on 26th June, that group was whittled down to 28 players who will represent the country in three matches, against the under-18 teams of England, Wales and France.
Nine players from the Blue Bulls were selected in the squad, Eastern Province have four representatives while three players each from KwaZulu-Natal and South Western Districts were selected.
In this years Coca-Cola Craven Week we nominated a Coca-Cola Hero of the day who was nominated by doing something that really stood out during the day. The player is not necessarily the bast player of the day but the play that they made needed to make a difference in the game for their team.
Two of the Coca-Cola Heroes of the day, Curwin Bosch and Keanu Vers, both from Grey High School in Port Elizabeth, made the SA Schools team.
Curwin was chosen as the Coca-Cola Hero of the day on day two of the Coca-Cola Craven Week due to a moment of brilliance that came when they were under a lot of pressure. The Blue Bulls had dominated the game up to the 50th minute having scored a try and kicked 4 penalties and were leading 19-9. Eastern Province had a couple of opportunities up to then through breakaway runs.
In the 50th minute, Eastern Province got a penalty that Rouche Nel, their scrumhalf, took quickly and passed to Curwin who ran through a couple of tackles to score under the post. This was the moment that changed the momentum of the game and Eastern Province eventually ran out 26-25 winners.
Keanu Vers was the Coca-Cola Hero of the Day on day four of the Under-18 Coca-Cola Craven Week Coca-Cola thanks to a brilliant run that set one of his players, Athi Mayinje into a gap to score their second try of the game against the Free State, a game that Eastern Province won 19-5.
Keanu received the ball after a strong run by Junior Sipato Pokomela where he committed two defenders before offloading. As soon as Keanu received the ball he handed off one player, beat a couple of defenders before being tackled. Whilst going down in the tackle he managed to offload the ball to Athi who trotted over the try line without opposition.
The first Coca-Cola SA Schools match will be against France at the City Park Stadium in Cape Town on August 15, followed by Wales at Outeniqua Park in George on August 19, and England at the Paul Roos Markötter grounds in Stellenbosch on August 23.
The 2014 SA Schools squad is:
Fullbacks: Morné Joubert (Glenwood HS, KwaZulu-Natal), Eduan Keyter (Affies, Blue Bulls), Keanu Vers (Grey HS, Eastern Province).
Wings: Nazo Nkala (Welkom Gimnasium, Griffons), Jerry Danquah (Queens College, Border), Andell Loubsher (Menlo Park, Blue Bulls).
Centres: Barend Smit (HTS Middelburg, Pumas), JT Jackson (Oakdale Agric, SWD).
Flyhalves: Curwin Bosch (Grey HS, Eastern Province), Thinus de Beer (Waterkloof, Blue Bulls).
Scrumhalves: Marko Janse van Vuuren (HS Transvalia, Valke), Embrose Papier (Garsfontein, Blue Bulls).
Loose forwards: Jakobus Coetzee (Glenwood, KwaZulu-Natal), Junior Pokomela (Grey HS, Eastern Province), Edmund Rheeder (HS Klerksdorp, Leopards), Cobus Wiese (HS Upington, Griquas Country Districts), Victor Maruping (Louis Botha, Free State), Arnold Gerber (Menlo Park, Blue Bulls).
Locks: Eduard Zandberg (Outeniqua HS, SWD), Jaco Willemse (Paarl Gimnasium, Western Province), Ashton Fortuin (Southdown College, Blue Bulls).
Hookers: Jan-Henning Campher (Garsfontein, Blue Bulls), Le Roux Baard (Outeniqua HS, SWD).
Props: Ignatius Prinsloo (Grey College, Free State), Sarel-Marco Smit (Eldoraigne, Blue Bulls), Ngonidzashe Chidoma (Northwood HS, KwaZulu-Natal), Michael Kumbirai (St Albans College, Blue Bulls), Lupumlo Mguca (Daniel Pienaar, Eastern Province).
Coach: Hein Kriek (Paul Roos, Western Province).
This is the first in a series of three articles on Schools Rugby. We will be giving away four tickets to a Rugby Championship match to one lucky reader at end of the series . The last article will be published on the 23rd of August.