RUGBY fever will be high this week when the country’s leading schoolboy rugby players strut their stuff in the 49th Coca- Cola under-18 Craven Week at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, starting today.
The event is back in Port Elizabeth after an absence of 12 years.
All the matches will be broadcast live on SuperSport, giving the city excellent national exposure for tourism.
A total of 18 South African teams will take part in the tournament, which runs until Saturday. Zimbabwe and Namibia have been invited as additional teams.
The region will be represented by two sides, a main Eastern Province side, who play against the Falcons at 3.30pm today, and an EP Country Districts outfit who take on their Griquas counterparts tomorrow.
Craven Week has a rich tradition of producing Springboks and this year’s crop of 440 players will be out to impress.
Just a year ago, former Grey High centre Jan Serfontein was among those competing in Craven Week. Today, he is recognised as one of the brightest young stars in world rugby.
This follows his being named the IRB Junior Player of the Year at the recent IRB Junior World Championship in Cape Town.
Eben Etzebeth, a Springbok debutant in the recent test series against England, played in the 2009 Craven Week, confirming this platform not only remains the most iconic schoolboy rugby tournament in the world, but also a passage into professional and representative rugby.
Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism chief executive Mandlakazi Skefile is confident the tournament will boost the city’s coffers.
"This time is normally regarded as a low season, so this tournament will definitely boost the tourism figures.
"We have been getting inquiries at our call centre about catering and accommodation.
"We are very excited this event is taking place here. The kids will be coming to the city with their parents.
"The event also attracts good media coverage, with Saturday’s final [and all the other games aired] live on SuperSport.
"This tournament also gives the youth something to do since it is school holidays and the tickets are affordable,” Skefile said.
Organising committee chairman Thando Hallam said it was all systems go for the tournament.
"It was demanding to organise the tournament but we are ready. We are hoping for the best.
"People must come and see our future Springbok players,” Hallam said.
Tickets for the tournament, which starts this morning, cost R50 for a week pass and R20 for a day pass. Schoolchildren in uniform with a chaperone can enter free of charge.