Daniël Hartman Craven was most properly one of the most influential people in not just South African rugby but World Rugby. He stand out in history not just as a player, captain, coach and administrator but as a person that change the game of rugby in his time.
Born on 11 October 1910 on Steeton Farm near Lindley in the Free State, his father, aged 18, fought against the British during the Anglo-Boer War and was interned in a British concentration camp, a fate that reportedly also befell his mother.
As a young boy Doc Carven played barefoot soccer on the farm and only started to play rugby with a stone in the town streets when he was send to Lindley High School at the age of 13.
Doc Craven shown his potential at rugby and cricket at school and in the following year he was selected to play for his town’s adult team but his principal prevented him from playing until he turned 15. Part of his Lindley teammates was Lappies Hattingh who would play with Doc Craven 8 years later for the Springboks against the Wallabies.
Doc Craven enrolled at the Stellenbosch University in 1929 as he registered as a theology student but later switched to social sciences and social anthropology. The switch was prompted by medical advice after his vocal chords were damaged by a kick to the throat while he tried to stop charging forwards during the 1932 test against Scotland.
An all-round athlete, Craven represented his university in rugby, swimming (captain), water polo and baseball. He also participated in track and field, and played cricket, tennis, and soccer. His third doctorate was for his thesis on Evolution of Modern Games. He was appointed as Stellenbosch’s first professor of Physical Education in 1949, and served in that capacity until 1975.
Due to his fame as Springbok Craven’s image was used in Afrikaans language newspapers during the Second World War to encourage men to enlist. The advertisement showed Craven in uniform, looking into the distance and announcing, ‘I am playing in the biggest Springbok team ever; join me and score the most important try of your life.
He was known as “Mr. Rugby” in South Africa.
Doc Craven played 16 Test matches for South Africa, primarily as a scrum half between 1931 and 1938. Doc also played a variety of other positions, including fly half, centre, and number eight, and even played a game at fullback for South Africa against Queensland.
He was credited with perfecting the dive pass, which more rapidly delivered the ball from the scrum to the backs. Doc Craven had been director of physical education at the Military College in Pretoria in 1938 when he became the first captain of the newly formed Northern Transvaal Rugby Union.
In 1949 Craven became selector and manager/coach of the South African national team and he served in that capacity for several years. In 1956 he became president of the South African Rugby Board, a position he held until his death in 1993. In 1959 he was elevated to chairman of the International Rugby Football Board (IRB).
Craven was an enigma, loved by many who knew him, yet also hated for doing little to challenge segregation in South African rugby, a sport central to white South African identity, during the apartheid era. A fact little known to outsiders was that Craven did provide occasional coaching expertise for a “Coloured” (mixed race) rugby team in the 1940s and ’50s.
He led the SARB into unsuccessful negotiations for rugby unity in 1987 when South Africa was excluded from the inaugural IRB Rugby World Cup. Respected by rugby men internationally, Craven was made an honorary vice president for life of the French Rugby Federation in 1992.
Craven Week, South Africa’s national youth tournament that was begun in 1964, was named for him, as was the University of Stellenbosch’s rugby stadium.
In 1988 Doc Craven, in an attempt to get Springbok rugby back in international competition, held talks with the ANC leadership in Zimbabwe. They agreed that a unified rugby body would be formed and racial integrated teams would be fielded for foreign tournaments. Doc Craven took a lot of flak for this from white right wingers. The President of South Africa at the time, PW Botha, denounced the move.
It did however pave the way for SARFU (South African Rugby Football Union) to be formed in 1992 when rugby was allowed back into international competitions. Doc Craven became President of SARFU until his death on 4 January 1993. Dr Danie Craven dedicated 37 years of his life as an administrator of rugby and 62 years to rugby in total.
Doc Craven was never to see the Springboks lift the Rugby World Cup in his lifetime but did a lot for South Africa to get back on the international stage.
Danie Craven supported the 1987 Rugby World Cup even though South Africa was not able to compete because of its apartheid policies. His decision to support the proposal in effect guaranteed that South Africa would host a future tournament once apartheid was relaxed. There are some lovely stories about his life in rugby. For one he believed there should always be a Jewish player and a Policeman in the Springbok team as this brought them luck.
Another is that during the 70’s he coached at Maties. Doc and the Dean did not see eye to eye and when a rugby player applied for studies they would often be over looked for acceptance. This resulted in Naas Botha ending up at Tukkies (Pretoria University) instead of Maties. How true this is we would never know.
My favourite saying by Doc Craven is: “Jy kry baie skoppe my seun. Skepskoppe, Doelskoppe en strafskoppe, maar daai was ‘n k@k skop.” Loosely translated: “you get many kinds of kicks my boy. Penalty kicks, drop kicks, goal kicks, but that was a shitty kick.”
Long live the memory of Dr Danie Craven. One of South African Rugby’s Greatest players and administrators.
|Full name||Daniël Hartman Craven|
|Date of birth||11 October 1910|
|Place of birth||Lindley, Free State, South Africa|
|Date of death||4 January 1993 (aged 82)|
|Place of death||Stellenbosch, South Africa|
|Height||1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)|
|Weight||80 kg (180 lb)|
|School||Lindley High School|
|Occupation(s)||President of South African Rugby (’56-’93)
Director of Sport (’76-’84)
Professor of Physical Education (’49-’75)
|Rugby union career|
No. 8 (’37)
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