How ‘Doc’ Craven laid the path for South African rugby

David Lord Columnist

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    I must salute “Darwin Stubbie” for taking me to task on rating John O’Neill, Tim Caldwell, John Quayle, and David Gallop, as the best sporting administrators I’ve dealt with in nearly half-a-century. “Darwin Stubbie’s” comment was: “Am I reading this correctly the four best sporting administrators in the world ever were/are Aussies?”

    “Darwin Stubbie” is quite right, I was treating Roar as a national column, not worldwide.My mistake, never to be made again.

    To correct the wrong, there’s only one top sporting administrator outside Australia – South Africa’s Dr Danie Craven.

    ‘Doc” was an incredible man, rugby to the marrow of his bones:

    * A teak-tough half-back with 16 Bok caps, from 1931 to 1938 – rated the best in the world.

    * “Doc” was such a hugely popular figure in South Africa, the Union Defence Forces used his image to recruit for World War 11, saying – “I am playing in the biggest Springbok team ever, join me and score the most important try of your life” – the recruitment drive worked a treat.

    * A National selector from 1938 to 1949, when he wasn’t on War duty.

    * The Bok coach from 1949 to 1955 for 23 Tests, winning 73%, including the first 10, starting with a record 4-0 whitewash of the 1949 All Blacks.

    * President of the South African Rugby Board from 1956 until his death in 1993, aged 82.

    * The IRB chairman in 1962, 1973, and 1979.

    * And the third inductee into the IRB Hall of Fame, after Rugby School, and William Webb Ellis.

    It’s a cracking CV, but it was “Doc’s” presidency during South Africa’s sporting isolation from 1977 to 1991, that made him such a standout.

    Rugby has always been the lifeblood of South African sport, and to be denied international competition for 14 years, took a “Doc” to keep the code alive, and patient.

    I dealt directly with “Doc” while I was putting together professional rugby, in 1983.

    “World Championship Rugby” was to be played in three sections – Australia-New Zealand, England-Ireland-Scotland-Wales-France, and South Africa.

    Bob Hawke as the Australian Prime Minister at the time, and not at all pleased with the latter, with the Gleneagles Agreement still operative.

    But I kept the PM, in the loop. There were two critical passages – playing in South Africa, and overall television coverage.

    “Doc” organised the entire South African Rugby Board in Cape Town, so I could explain my professional plans.

    The meeting lasted nearly three hours, and it was fascinating to watch, and listen to, “Doc” at first hand, as he ruled the roost.

    And even though WCR couldn’t include the Boks because of the Gleneagles Agreement, the very presence of eight world-class countries playing against each other in the rugby-starved Republic, was music to “Doc’s” ears, and the majority of the Board.

    But it was the television coverage that killed the concept.

    Free-to-air television was fearful of an advertising backlash by those supportive of rugby staying an amateur game.

    But had there been Foxtel in 1983, as it is today, WCR would have taken off, long before 1983 expired.

    As we all know, “if” never wins anything, and at least the Rugby World Cup started in 1987, along WCR lines, and professionalism in 1996.

    But the cruellest cut of all was Dr Danie Craven dying in 1993, just two years before his beloved Boks won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 at their first attempt – and in South Africa.

    The good Doctor deserved to be in the thick of those exciting times, sharing the limelight, and the glory, with Nelson Mandela. Two magnificent South Africans.

    But when it comes to rugby, there’s just “Doc”. And again I thank “Darwin Stubbie” for his comment, that prompted this long overdue Dr Danie Craven salute.

    Have one for “Doc”, and me, Darwin.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn’t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world’s great sporting spectacles

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