The greatest scrum-halves of all time: Danie Craven
Craven’s all-round status is emphasised by the fact that he is known as South Africa’s ‘Mr Rugby’. The scrum-half was one of the greats
Major team: Western Province
Country: South Africa
Test span: 1931-38
Test caps: 16 (16 starts)
Test points: 6 (2T)
Danie Craven was such a towering figure in South African rugby as a coach and administrator that his playing career is sometimes overlooked, yet he was probably the most influential scrum-half the Springboks had before Joost van der Westhuizen.
A further common oversight is the fact Craven played in three international positions for the 1937 South African team, led by Flip Nel, that many still regard as the Boks’ finest. On the tour to Australasia, Craven played scrum-half, fly-half and in the back row as his side beat Australia 2-0 and the All Blacks 2-1. But it was a scrum-half that he’s best remembered, and it was in that role that he scored the winning try against Scotland in 1932, a match in which he was knocked unconscious.
A PE teacher in Grahamstown at the time, Craven is credited with inventing the dive pass and, true or not – because ‘Lammetjie’ Luyt has his champions – Craven perfected it as a way of getting quick ball away to his half-back partner.
The outbreak of World War Two meant his international career finished with the victory over the 1938 Lions, and on 16 caps, but after the conflict Craven’s power grew. He coached the Springboks to 17 wins from 23, helping the 1949 and 1951-52 teams etch their places in South African history, and became chairman of the South African Rugby Board in 1956. He held posts at the IRB and was instrumental in keeping his country in touch with the rest of the rugby world whilst they were in sporting isolation.
Craven had secretly negotiated with the African National Congress in 1988 – a year before president FW de Klerk had started the dismantlement of apartheid which led to South Africa’s reintroduction to rugby in 1992 and its hosting of the 1995 World Cup. He died in 1993, aged 82, two years before he could see his greatest triumph.