Tue Dec 06 19:53:48 CAT 2016

Doc not entirely forgotten

Archie Henderson | 2010-10-17 22:19:15.00 Comments
Archie Henderson.
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Archie Henderson: Danie Craven always seemed old, so it came as a surprise to find he would have reached 100 only a week go.

Craven - always "Doc" - and the Union were both born in 1910 and the centenaries of these two South African institutions have passed almost without comment.

Of the two, the Doc had the greater influence on our lives: he could make you a Springbok, but you might first have to play for Stellenbosch. He once promised the Springbok fullback berth to Bossie Clarke, but Clarke left Maties to play wing for Villagers and never played for the Boks, as much as he may have deserved to.

Craven, who was chosen for South Africa while he was a student at Stellenbosch University - even before he had represented Western Province - played 16 Tests, captaining in four. He was never in a losing series, including the famous 1937 one in New Zealand and, remarkably, played in four different positions: 12 as a scrumhalf, twice as a flyhalf and once as a centre and No8.

From his debut in 1931 up to his death in 1993, Craven was never uninvolved in South African rugby. After his playing days, he was either coach of the Boks, a selector, or the president of SA rugby.

Even when he was no longer a selector, you could discern his hand in Springbok selections. He once stepped in to prevent the Broederbond foisting their candidate - a mediocre Northern Transvaal flank - on the Boks as captain. Instead, they got Morne du Plessis - a far better choice, you will agree.

Doc was a towering figure in life and is all but forgotten 17 years after his death. Here and there old-timers will remember him, but even in Stellenbosch there are some who have no idea who he was.

A friend who played rugby and cricket at Stellenbosch, while Doc was huisvader at Wilgenhof koshuis, was back at the university recently. As he was passing the statue of Doc and Bliksem that stands near Craven stadium, he overheard a student on a cellphone: "I'm here at that place with the dude and his dog."

The dude and his dog were once Matie celebrities (of a kind), and feared too. When Doc and Bliksem were on the touchline at training, no one within sight would dare shirk. Craven, while coaching his beloved Maties, once stopped the practice to summon an eighthman from the next-door field and berate him for not scrumming with sufficient intensity.

Maties, of course, were Doc's first love, followed closely by Wilgenhof, and the Springboks not far behind. He seldom had time for Western Province, if only not to show any bias as national rugby leader. He had a special aversion for the Newlands crowd, whom he claimed never treated his Maties fairly.

Of other bêtes noires, his favourites were referees and rugby writers. So it was odd that his right-hand man was a former journalist. Today, when South African rugby is administered by a vast bureaucracy, it is hard to remember how Doc and Alex Kellerman ran the game, virtually out of the boot of Craven's Jaguar.

We can only speculate on how Doc would regard rugby today. Would Maria Ramos have received a blast from him, or would he have agreed that transformation in rugby was too slow?

Before he died, Doc had certainly changed his political tune. Although he was never quite at odds with the National Party government as he often claimed to be, he would have embraced every black Springbok. He definitely would have abhorred professionalism.

He would have had something to say about College Rovers - a Durban team for goodness' sake! - beating Maties in the club championship. Then, again, it might not have happened if Doc had been there for the team talk, and made his usual speech, quoting - and I am not kidding here - tracts from Louis L'Amour's cowboy books.

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