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

David Lord Columnist

24 Have your say

    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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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • February 24th 2011 @ 6:15am
      Darwin Stubbie said | February 24th 2011 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      Thanks for the acknowledgement / clarification – and it was truly a simple question

      although, having been a nipper through the 1981 tour in NZ, the idea of including SA in 1983 would have done far more harm than good ..

    • February 24th 2011 @ 7:02am
      sheek said | February 24th 2011 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      Well DS,

      Hopefully this clears things up. As an example, deep down David Lord might have thought Don King was the world’s greatest sporting administrator. But since he was addressing neither an American nor boxing forum, he didn’t see the necessity to mention this fact.

      Fortunately, he has since clarified his initial comments which were directed at a predominately Australian site, for the digestion of predominately Australian readers.

      • February 24th 2011 @ 7:23am
        Darwin Stubbie said | February 24th 2011 @ 7:23am | ! Report

        I’m really don’t want to bother getting into this with you – but just go back and read the initial piece … a global reference was made – therefore it was a worthwhile question to be asked .. and good on DL for actually adressing it … sometimes I think the pair of us can be a bit too quick to jump all over stuff

        • February 24th 2011 @ 8:36am
          sheek said | February 24th 2011 @ 8:36am | ! Report

          Alright, I’ll take the last sentence as an olive branch…!

    • February 24th 2011 @ 9:08am
      sheek said | February 24th 2011 @ 9:08am | ! Report


      You continue to tantalise us with your WCR concept of 1983. No doubt a full disclosure is coming to a Roar article sometime soon!

      From a purely sporting point of view, I felt robbed of seeing the Proteas (back then all SA teams were called Springboks) & Springboks play the Baggy Greens & Wallabies throughout the 70s & 80s.

      I listened to the 1970 cricket series via Radio Australia & the dulcet tones of Alan McGilvray. I saw first-hand the 1971 rugby series at the SCG through the barbed wire & flour bombs & demonstrators. I was 14 & 15 during this time.

      The next time I got to see Australia play South Africa in either sport was 1992, & I was then 36. But of course, you can’t compare missing out on watching sport with the cruelty of apartheid.

      I also find it ironic that perhaps South Africa had one of its best cricket teams in the early to mid-70s, & indeed right up to the late 80s, while its rugby team for most of the 80s was among its most formidable in history.

      Freezing time at 1975, have a look at this Proteas XI – Eddie Barlow(c), Barry Richards (vc), Hylton Ackerman, Graeme Pollock, Lee Irvine, Clive Rice, Mike Procter, Tony Smith (wk), Denys Hobson, Vince van der Biji, Rupert Hanley.

      Richards & Pollock were two of SA’s greatest ever batsmen. Ackerman did well in Australia in 1971/72 with a World XI. Irvine was highly rated as a batsman & backup keeper. Smith was a competent keeper-batsman.

      Spinner Hobson was invited to play WSC but was denied entry to Australia because he wasn’t a professional cricketer, this being the day of politics in sport. Procter, Rice & Barlow were an outstanding trio of all-rounders, combining high quality batting with right-arm fast medium bowling.

      Hanley was the fastest bowler in SA in the mid-70s. Van der Bijl can be described in both size & style as the white Joel Garner. He broke all domestic 1st class bowling records in his career.

      Even by 1980 you could add the names of Jimmy Cook, Henry Fotheringham, Peter Kirsten, Ken McEwan, Kevin McKenzie, Adrian Kuiper, Alan Kourie, Ray Jennings (wk), Steve Jefferies Garth le Roux, Willie Watson. And if it wasn’t for apartheid, both Kepler Wessels & Allan Lamb would have remained in the republic.

      And what if we froze time at 1985 for this Springboks XV – Johan Heunis, Ray Mordt, Danie Gerber, Michael du Plessis, Carel du Plessis, Naas Botha, Divan Serfontein (vc), Jannie Breedt, Rob Louw, Theuns Stofberg (c), Louis Moolman, Shalk Burger snr, Flippie van der Merwe, Uli Schmidt, Frans Erasmus.

      Heunis, Mordt, Gerber, C. du Plessis & Botha are the best in their positions over the past 30 years, & perhaps with the exception of Heunis, best of all-time in SA rugby. In the forwards, Schmidt is the best hooker of the past 30 years, even allowing for the grand achievements of John Smit. I would also say Louw is the best open side flanker the Boks have had in the past 30 years.

      SA rugby is usually seen as tough but stodgy, but the Boks of the mid-80s had the ability to run the ball as well as anyone. There was speed & skill to burn. And yes, Botha could spin the ball out when he had to!

      I guess if SA hadn’t been so strong in the 70s & 80s in both cricket & rugby, then the senselessness of apartheid might not have hit home so hard to sports lovers.

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2011 @ 9:51am
        Rusty said | February 24th 2011 @ 9:51am | ! Report

        Ahh the good Dr Schmidt – one of my favourites but I think Dalton would give him a rugged run for his money and I think Bismarck would eclipse them both for sheer physicality

        • February 24th 2011 @ 12:45pm
          sheek said | February 24th 2011 @ 12:45pm | ! Report


          Interesting comments. If you’re a Saffie, would you be willing to offer other insights on the players I mentioned?

          Re Schmidt, I’ve always liked my hooker to have the mobility akin to being an extra flanker, which Schmidt did exceptionally well.

          My ideal pack has 4 players always tight (2 x props, 2 x locks); 2 players tight/loose (hooker + a backrower) & 2 players often loose (remaining two backrowers).

          • February 24th 2011 @ 3:44pm
            Rugbyfan said | February 24th 2011 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

            Commenting on Naas Botha, Craven said, “Give me Naas Botha, and I’ll beat the world.” Craven couldn’t understand how any side could lose f Naas was playing in it. It’s a great pity Naas did not get an opportunity to play more international rugby. One of his finest performances was in the Northern Transvaal-Transvaal final of 1987, played for the most part in rain (along with some hail)! The following morning the newspaper’s headlines were, “Naas 24 Transvaal 18.” Naas had an extraordinary ability to read the game. He was much more than just a kicker. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen a flyhalf who could so dominate a game and win it single-handedly.

            Ray Mordt, in full flight, was nigh unstoppable. His three tries against the 1981 All Blacks almost won the game for South Africa. He was ahead of his time in that it was quite obvious he did a lot of gym work. His ability to break the tackle was a joy to behold.

            Carel DuPlesis was a beautiful runner. His ability to beat the opposing wing on the outside was breath taking. He had a beautiful step and was such a well-balanced runner.

            As for Danie Gerber, a legend! He had an electrifying ability to change direction and flummox defences. His ability to step off both his feet, and pace off the mark made him a lethal centre. Like Mordt, he was also a powerful runner.

            As for Schmidt, a wonderful ball player who read the game extremely well. He always seemed to pop up at the right time to score a try. However, his play was also marked by “dirtiness.” If there was a punch-up, then you could be sure Schmidt was somehow involved. Being a qualified medical doctor, I couldn’t help wondering if he quickly slipped a business card to those he had just punched!

    • February 24th 2011 @ 9:15am
      Wall-Nut said | February 24th 2011 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      I read the column, I picked up on the error I just assumed it was simply that, an error…it’s very easy to write articles on here , read them back to yourself, then have another person read it and you realise a simple mistake has turned into a debate.

      I suppose it takes a little common sense for readers to actually understand ones comment.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • February 24th 2011 @ 9:35am
        sheek said | February 24th 2011 @ 9:35am | ! Report


        I’m not sure where you’re referring the error occurred. I agree with DS we can both jump in too quickly.

        However, if you read David Lord’s original article in context, he was referring to Australians for a mostly Australian audience.

        As my English teacher used to say, “context, my boy, context”.

        Anyway, DS & I are mates again…..

    • February 24th 2011 @ 9:46am
      Wall-Nut said | February 24th 2011 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      What I mean is how David Lord treated his column as world wide, I instantly thought this wasn’t accurate and classed it as a mistake on David Lord column. I don’t nit pick on words like that, as I knew what he was actually talking about, even though David admitted to it.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

    • February 24th 2011 @ 10:00am
      Spiro Zavos said | February 24th 2011 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      I had the chance to interview Danie Craven in New Zealand in the 1970s. I was not allowed to ask any questions about sporting contacts between the rugby world and South Africa, or the apartheid issue. So we discussed the laws of rugby, on which Craven was the world’s leading authority. For decades he virtually wrote these laws for the IRB.
      He told me that at Stellenbosch University (where he was a professor of anthropology with two earned Ph.Ds) he often experimented with different possibilities played out by his university teams to see what might happen.
      One experiment was to line the lineout jumpers in alternating places in one straight line. Obviously, this didn’t work out and we have got lifting as the way to sort out the bar-room brawls that lineouts had become.
      When the ELVs were devised, they were trialled at Stellenbosch which remains a heartland and mindland (if there is such a word) of rugby. So I named them the final package the Stellenbosch Laws, a name that caught on.
      Craven told me a couple of profound things about the laws of rugby: first, if you change one law, says the ability to kick out on the full with full measure from inside your own 22, that affects many other laws as well. He called it the tugging of a thread in a cardigan.
      Second: the laws of rugby as they were then (and now, for that matter) are far too complicated.
      We will know when we have the correct laws of rugby, he told me, when they can be virtually written down on one sheet of paper, like the laws of football. This is what the ELVs tried to do, incidentally.
      I admired Craven as a great man of rugby. But his position on apartheid (‘no black will wear Springbok colours) was unacceptable.
      Craven also told me that he was never a member of the Broederbond, the secret brotherhood that was established after the Boer War to win back Afrikaner dominance of South Africa’s economic, cultural and political life.
      Virtually everyone else involved in the higher echelons of South African rugby was a member of the Broederbond, including the referees for Test matches. No wonder it was difficult to win over there before the open era in rugby.
      Craven also was an English-speaker, and not an Afrikaner, even though his voice was guttural in the Afrikaner mode. His father was born in England and was a footballer in South Africa, not a rugby player.
      His mother had been locked up in one of Kitchenr’s concentration camps during the Boer War.
      Craven clearly identified with his mother’s world-view, which was anti-English, than that of his father.
      As David Lord suggests a brilliant man, an old-time great administrator but not likeable to those who were not on the same wave-length as his.

      • February 24th 2011 @ 2:09pm
        stuff happens said | February 24th 2011 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

        I entirely agree with you Spiro. As far as I am aware Craven always supported the blatantly racist apartheid regime in South Africa & did nothing to try & change it.I seem to remember that the non white members of an All Black team were made honorary whites for a tour.Beggars belief.
        It was people like Craven who kept Nelson Mandela in prison for more than twenty years. As for his comment which you mention that ‘no black will wear Springbok colours’ – it is beyond contempt.

        • February 24th 2011 @ 4:57pm
          titus said | February 24th 2011 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          yes, you’d think his racist attitude especially in those early years will have undone all the good work he did for South African rugby and rugby in general

      • February 27th 2017 @ 9:40pm
        Jennifer Stewart said | February 27th 2017 @ 9:40pm | ! Report

        Spiro, I appreciate your input on Doc Craven.

        Do you know who he spoke to when he (allegedly) said blacks would never play for the Springboks, or even where/when exactly he said it? It’s practically an urban legend now but I can’t find a verifiable source. I know he denied it later on. He doesn’t strike me as being a coward who would lie, but I realize I could be wrong. I’d just like to know the truth, whatever it is. Thanks.

        If anybody reads this and can help, I’d appreciate it.

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