Western Province coach Chris October believes his side will be ‘a force to be reckoned with’ at this year’s U18 Craven Week.
Province will be one of 22 teams participating in the annual school provincial tournament, which kicks off on 13 July at the Border Rugby Stadium in East London.
Due to their poor results in 2008 (they suffered two defeats to the Lions and Pumas, and beat the Blue Bulls) there is a lot of expectation from management to do better this year. October, who was promoted from team manager to head coach this season, is adamant his squad will be more successful.
‘Last year, our biggest mistake was to underestimate our opponents,’ October told keo.co.za ‘We won’t make the same mistake this year and I am convinced we will achieve better results.’
With the WP selectors choosing a side full of strong individuals, the coaching staff’s main focus at training has been forging team spirit.
‘For the last two weeks, the players have been doing a lot of bonding exercises in order to get to know each other better,’ said October. ‘It is important for the team to combine well and to play as a unit. This has worked well as there is a close relationship between the players and coaches. There is a nice vibe.’
Paul Roos scrumhalf Rick Schoeder was named captain, an obvious choice as he has come through the ranks as skipper of the U13 and U16 WP Craven Week sides. He is also one of six WP players who played in last year’s tournament.
‘Rick is very excited, we all are very excited,’ said October. ‘He is a player with excellent leadership skills and experience and he is also the captain of his school.’
October praised the strength of his team, saying he is ‘blessed’ with a backline who will be lethal in attack, while the forwards will also be a force.
‘We are a very balanced team,’ he said. ‘We have great scrummagers and we’re good in the lineouts and at the breakdowns. We also have fantastic strike runners in the backline who will be the biggest threat.’
However, some of the WP selections have raised a few eyebrows. Flankers Nizaam Carr and Heinrich Marcus both play eighthman and outside centre Tshotsho Mbovane has played wing all season for Paul Roos.
‘Nizaam and Heinrich can play at No 6, 7 or 8. They both played superbly at flank last year for WP and I am sure they will again this season,’ said October. ‘This is also the first season that Mbovane has played wing for Paul Roos. He has always played at outside centre but he too is an utility player. He can play at wing or centre.’
October is confident that his team will shine at this year’s tournament.
‘I believe my philosophy, which is to focus on your own team’s abilities, will help improve this year’s performance. Your opponents are only as good as you’re allow them to be so we just have to play to our strengths.
‘We are optimistic going into the tournament. I can’t remember when last we actually won Craven Week but we are going to do whatever it takes!’
WP Schools – 15 Logan Solomons (Scottsdene), 14 Zingisa Ndiki (Wynberg Boys’ High), 13 Tshotsho Mbovane (Paul Roos Gymnasium), 12 JP du Plessis (Paul Roos Gymnasium), 11 JR Esterhuizen (Paarl Gymnasium), 10 William van Wyk (Paarl Gymnasium), 9 Rick Schroeder (Paul Roos Gymnasium, captain), 8 Christiaan Smith (Paarl Gymnasium), 7 Nizaam Carr (Bishops), 6 Heinrich Marcus (Excelsior), 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys (Paarl Boys’ High), 4 Eben Etzebeth (Tygerberg High), 3 Frans Malherbe (Paarl Boys’ High, vice captain), 2 Gareth Topkin (Rondebosch Boys’ High), 1 Adriaan Botha (Paarl Boys’ High)
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach (Paarl Boys’ High), 17 Steven Kitshoff (Paul Roos Gymnasium), 18 Braam Steyn (Paul Roos Gymnasium), 19 Jodi Reyneke (Tygerberg High), 20 Jean Rossouw (Strand High), 21 Sam Lane (Bishops), 22 Craig Barry (Paul Roos Gymnasium)
Craven Week Opening Fixtures:
Monday 13 July
Namibia vs Griquas CD
Griquas vs Pumas
EP vs WP
SWD vs Lions
Border vs Valke
Tuesday 14 July
Border CD vs SA LSEN (Learners with Special Educational Needs)
EP CD vs Leopards
Griffons vs Limpopo
SA Academy vs Zimbabwe
Boland vs Blue Bulls
Free State vs KZN
By Gareth Duncan