Although sceptics might still be tempted to raise their concerns, in the light of an impressive 69-19 win over their Namibian counterparts on Saturday 30 June, the Western Province 2012 Craven Week side does look very much like the finished product one would expect from an area boasting arguably the most concentrated pool of schoolboy talent in the country.
Many will argue that the southern suburbs are abysmally underrepresented, an all too familiar situation in recent years, but, when you examine the squad, just about everybody selected is more than capable of doing the disa proud.
Here's a brief look at the squad:
15. Jason Worrall (Paul Roos). He is one of the most talented players in the team. Originally a flyhalf, he moved to his new position reluctantly, but he has not looked back since. His particular asset is his lightning pace which enables him to blend seamlessly into the backline, setting defensive alarm bells ringing. At the same he retains his kicking abilities of earlier years, making him a reliable last line of defence.
14. Grant Hermanus (Paarl Gimnasium). He is extremely quick and is destined to be a thorn in local schools' defences for quite a while yet - he's only in Grade 10. Not a large lad, he possesses a very quick side-step in addition to blistering pace. Defensively sound.
13. Michael Hazner (Paul Roos). The first of seven team members who can bank on the experience of the 2011 Craven Week. Although he was only a reserve in last year's squad, Hazner has shown mature vision in this crucial position, often being called upon to bolster a reserve-heavy Young Maties back division this season. Should thrive outside Cupido.
12. Wesley Cupido (Paarl Gimnasium). Paradoxically, perhaps Wesley's greatest contribution is his relative unobtrusiveness on the field. Playing as he does for Gym outside the sublime Handré Pollard and tackling dervish Altus Momsen, he has become a delightful playmaker with a keen eye for the gap and excellent timing in his passing. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the slightly different demands of the No.12 jersey.
11. Dalen Goliath (Paul Roos). Another veteran from 2011. Despite injuries he has accumulated 22 First XV tries over the last two campaigns. A good tackler as well as a consummate finisher. One that may be destined for bigger things.
10. Handré Pollard (Paarl Gimnasium). The reserve Western Province flyhalf at the 2011 Craven Week, he has been the stuff of headlines ever since. Having force-fed any remaining detractors their words with a brilliant Junior World Cup campaign, this physically imposing flyhalf with a huge boot - from hand and tee - and an uncanny ability to read the game is probably the hottest 18-year-old rugby property on earth. Too focused to regard the week as just another couple of days at the office after the JWC.
9. Pieter Schoonraad (Paarl Boys' High). Pieter's graduation to First XV status at Boishaai has been a no-brainer. A 2011 Academy Week cap, he has been the archetypal terrorist around the base of the scrum for several years. His short, nuggety stature makes him literally a handful, whether he is nipping at his opposite number's heels or ferreting the ball from a ruck. Has a fine box kick.
8. Rikus Bothma (Paarl Gimnasium). Bothma's stunning form at the back of Gim's scrum this year ensured his selection. Tall, powerfully-built, quick on his feet and more than happy to carry the ball on the attack, this Grade 11 lad is tipped to be one of the stars of the week.
7. Jacques Vermeulen (Paarl Gimnasium). The choice of this multi-talented all-round sportsman at openside flanker to partner his school team-mate Bothma is truly inspired. Very much the defensive foil for Bothma’s attacking skills, his lightning speed off the mark means that he shuts down as many attacks as he creates for his own side. Another Grade 11 learner!
6. Ramone Samuels (Paul Roos). Another player who will be enjoying his second Craven Week, Samuels is the closest thing the southernmost part of South Africa has to its own 'Beast'. A frighteningly formidable figure, particularly on the attack, his one weakness appears to be letting his head drop when he - like all players everywhere - makes the occasional mistake. His temperament aside, his combination with Bothma and Vermeulen is one of the key strengths of the Province team.
5. JD Schickerling (Paarl Gimnasium). Schickerling towers above most schoolboy players in the Western Province (and will continue to do so in 2013). Not merely a beanpole, Jakkals is a well-developed tight forward whose talents extend far beyond simply jumping and pushing when required. He is no slouch around the field and is never happier than when leading an attacking pod.
4. Sebastian Ferreira (Paarl Boys' High). Despite not being by any means the tallest lock available, Ferreira possesses sublime line-out skills. Having taken the local scene by storm last year when he was chosen for the Craven Week team ahead of his school's First XV captain, he has the mobility of a loose forward rather than a tight one.
3. Liam Hendricks (Paarl Boys' High). A formidable scrummager, Liam has learnt his trade in the top-class Richard Visagie School of Front Row Grunts. Perhaps less visible than Corbett (16) and Adonis (17), but no less effective.
2. Chad Solomon (Paul Roos). A controversial choice for several reasons, not least of which his poor showing at the 2011 Craven Week and the fact that he isn't first choice hooker at his school, for whom he has spent an uncomfortably large amount of time on the subs bench and at loosehead. Hopefully he will vindicate his selection in Port Elizabeth.
1. Morné Nortje (HS Tygerberg). Has impressed enormously with his astonishing work-rate in a pack that has often found itself on the back foot this season. Instrumental in the team’s resurgence at crucial stages of the campaign.
16. Craig Corbett (Paarl Boys' High). Reserve hooker for a second Craven Week, Corbett was most pundits' bet for the number 2 jersey. Apart from his accurate throw-in skills, he is an awesome forager in the loose whose only drawback is the tendency to get isolated on the drive.
17. Wesley Adonis (Paarl Boys' High). One of the most improved players in the winelands section of the Western Province premier league this season. A large bulky lad, Wesley has dispelled all the doubts about his fitness that were raised when he was chosen for last year’s Academy Week team with several storming games recently. His massive efforts against Landbou in particular would have won over the fence-sitters.
18. Burger van Niekerk (Paarl Boys' High). Has stepped into the breach left in his school side by injuries to Ryno van der Merwe so effectively that the latter's subsequent switch to flank has not weakened the front eight at all.
19. Corné Cooper (Paarl Gimnasium). The last prong in his school's loose trident and the third 2011 Academy Week player making the natural step up, Cooper’s tireless work largely takes place in the depths of rucks and mauls, meaning that his contribution often goes unheralded. He might not have scored a try this season, but he's made a good number!
20. SP Ferreira (Paul Roos). Perhaps not quite as nippy as first-choice scrumhalf Schoonraad, SP's strength lies in his admirable ability to discern the weak points in opponents' defences and distribute clean second-phase ball accordingly - or even to hold on to it to good effect, as seen against Paarl Boys' High.
21. Dennis Cox (Excelsior). A second slightly controversial selection, Dennis has represented the province in several age-groups over the years. His impressive stepping skills have been perfected in the sevens format at which his school, which plays below the premier tier, has garnered national attention.
22. Keagon Gordon (Boland Landbou). Has proved himself the consummate finisher over the last two and a bit seasons at the Farm. His jet-like speed off the mark, supplemented by a rapier-like break, has caught many an opponent unawares.
Don't be tempted to set much store by the Bondedag defeat to the Eagles in Riversdale. Hardly anyone in the Western Province camp needed a game like that after the climactic end-of-term matches their schools had to endure, while the SWD schools hadn't played for three weeks!
By Tony Stoops