It was an enormous privilege to be often in the company of Doc Craven in the last 20 years of his life, at a time when he was the best known, most easily recognised man in South Africa.
He deserved to be well known. He had earned that right as a player, an administrator, a teacher and a thinker, but above all as a courageous man of principle. In most cases he was well loved but in others he was an easy target for criticism. If there was any criticism of rugby, it was Craven’s fault – the team, an injury, a law you didn’t like, a politician’s pronouncement, anything you didn’t like about the Currie or Craven Week, a referee’s decision. He was so much Mr Rugby that it was presumed that he ran every detail of the game.
His direct participation in Springbok rugby lasted from 1931, when he was 20 years of age, to 1993 when he died – a lifetime of playing, coaching, selecting and administering the game at the top level. He never shied away from his principle, for Doc was not a shrinking violet. ‘No comment’ was not in his vocabulary.
He was chosen for the Springboks in 1931 before he had turned 21, after playing for Western Province. He was a third year student at Stellenbosch, housed at Wilgenhof. On that tour he played in two Tests – chosen ahead of the great Pierre de Villiers. The Springboks won all four Tests on that tour, and in the Golden Thirties went on to beat the Wallabies at home in Australia and New Zealand and the British & Irish Lions in South Africa. He played in all those Tests and captained in four. He then coached the 1949 Springboks to a whitewash of New Zealand, then to another Grand Slam in the UK and Ireland with a great win in France, then in a series win over the Wallabies. He was also the coach the first time the Springboks lost a series after 60 years, in New Zealand in 1956, the year Doc became president of the South African Rugby Board, a position he held till the politically acceptable unification of 1992 when he became the first executive president of the new SA Rugby Football Union.