DANIEL (Danie) HARTMAN CRAVEN was born on 11 October 1911 to James Roos Craven (* 28 June 1882) and Maria Susanna Hartman (+ 1958) on Steeton Farm near Lindley, a small town on the Vals River in the eastern Free State province of South Africa. Craven was the third of seven children. The family farm was named for Steeton in West Yorkshire, home to Craven's paternal grandfather, John Craven (1837–90), who came to South Africa as a diamond prospector. Craven later also named his home in Stellenbosch Steeton. His father, aged 18, fought against the British during the Anglo-Boer War and was interned in a British concentration camp, a fate that reportedly also befell his mother.
Craven married twice. He wed Beyera Johanna Hayward on 2 July 1938, (named after Gen CF Beyers) born on 1 June 1915, divorced in 1972, she died in 2007. She was daughter of George Nathaniel Hayward and Johanna Elizabeth Laubscher. Danie and Beyera had four children: Joan, George Hayward, Daniel, and James Roos Craven. On 30 May 1975 Craven married Martha Jacoba (Merle) Vermeulen, the widow of Cape Town detective Dirk Vermeulen. Merle worked in the fashion industry as a buyer for a chain of stores, and twisted her ankle badly at a fashion parade in Pretoria. A bystander introduced her to Craven as "a doctor" who "knew a lot about ankle injuries". After Craven treated her foot, he arranged to meet her again, and their relationship developed. Danie “Dok” Craven died January 4, 1993, at Stellenbosch
As a young boy Craven played barefoot soccer, and received his first lessons at a farm school. At the age of 13 he was sent to Lindley High School, and started playing rugby in the dusty town streets. At school he shone at cricket and rugby. In the following year Craven was selected to play for the town's adult team, but his principal prevented him from playing until he turned 15.
In 1929 Craven enrolled at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. He initially registered as a theology student, but later switched to Social Sciences and Social Anthropology. The switch was prompted by medical advice after his vocal chords were damaged by a kick to the throat while he tried to stop charging forwards during the 1932 test against Scotland. Craven lodged in Wilgenhof Men's Residence, following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, George Nathaniel Hayward (1886–1977) who had been one of Wilgenhof's first residents in 1903. An all-round athlete, Craven represented his university in rugby, swimming (captain), water polo and baseball. He also participated in track and field, and played cricket, tennis, and soccer. At university Craven found a mentor in Stellenbosch coach and national selector A.F. ("Oubaas Mark") Markötter, in charge of the university team from 1903 to 1957. Markötter noticed Craven from the time he starting playing as a 19-year-old in 1929, and promoted him to the first team the following year. Craven was selected as a Springbok in 1931 before he had made his provincial debut for Western Province in 1932. In a match against Free State in Bloemfontein that year he scored a hat-trick of tries in a performance regarded as one of his best.
Craven obtained his BA (1932) as well as a MA (1933) and PhD (1935) After completing his education at Stellenbosch, Craven started teaching at St. Andrew's College in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, in 1936. He coached the school's rugby side, and started playing for Eastern Province, alongside Flappie Lochner. While in Grahamstown he was selected for the 1937 Springbok tour. At Craven's suggestion, Markötter ensured that Lochner went on the 1937 tour to New Zealand.
Craven played his first test match on 5 December 1931 as scrum half at the age of 21 against Wales at St Helens, Swansea. His flyhalf was the captain, Bennie Osler. One of the other debutants that day was flanker André McDonald, who would later develop into the first specialist No. 8. Craven and McDonald became fast friends. His performance on a water-logged field led Die Burger to exult "Boy plays like a giant". He also played a variety of other positions, including fly half, centre, and number eight, and even played a game at fullback for South Africa against Queensland. He was credited with perfecting the dive pass, which more rapidly delivered the ball from the scrum to the backs.
In his third test, against Scotland at Murrayfield on 16 January 1932, Craven scored the winning try. The opportunity came because Craven implemented advice that he had received at Stellenbosch from coach Markötter. Markötter had said that on a muddy field a scrumhalf should either play with his forwards or kick, Craven recalled later. His advice enabled Craven to choose between captain Osler, who wanted the ball to be passed to him, and leader of the forwards Boy Louw, who demanded that the ball stay with the forwards. During the match he was knocked unconscious, sustained damage to his vocal chords, and lost a tooth. He played for SA 16 times: 1931-32 against Wales, Ireland, Scotland; 1933 against Australia 1 – 5; 1937 against Australia 1-2, and New Zealand 1 – 3; 1939 against Britain 1 – 3 during which he captained the whole series against Britain. He captained the Springbok team once in 1937, three times in 1938.
Craven's last test match was on 10 September 1938 as captain and also as scrum half at the age of 27 against the British Lions at Newlands, Cape Town. During the 1930s he was one of the world's leading scrumhalves, but the start of the Second World War in 1939 ended his career prematurely.
After his rugby-playing career ended, he was a national selector from 1938 until he was appointed coach in 1949. He started his coaching career with a bang, winning 10 matches in a row, including a 4–0 whitewash of New Zealand in their 1949 tour to South Africa. Under his guidance the Springboks were undefeated from 1949 to 1952, and won 17 of 23 tests (74% success rate) – an achievement that makes Craven one of South Africa's greatest coaches. He also coached Stellenbosch University from 1949 until 1956.
Craven joined the Union Defence Force in 1938 as Director of Physical Education and was sent to Europe to study physical education in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, France, and Britain. The imminent outbreak of war forced the Cravens to return to South Africa. Craven was appointed head of physical education at the South African military academy with the rank of Major. While serving as director of physical education at the Military College in Pretoria in 1938, he became the first captain of the newly formed Northern Transvaal Rugby Union. He created the physical training division of the South African Defence Force in 1941. When his section was established as a separate Physical Training Brigade in 1947, Craven was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and Director of the brigade. His military career was momentarily interrupted in 1947 as he was appointed lecturer at Stellenbosch University before returning to the brigade. While serving in the army (1944–48), he founded the Physical Training Battalion and turned many medically unfit men into soldiers. Due to his fame as Springbok Craven's image was used in Afrikaans language newspapers during the Second World War to encourage men to enlist. The advertisement showed Craven in uniform, looking into the distance and announcing, 'I am playing in the biggest Springbok team ever; join me and score the most important try of your life.'
Craven was appointed as first professor and director of Physical Education at the University of Stellenbosch in 1949, and served in that capacity until 1975. Apart from his academic dissertations Craven held three doctorates, one in ethnology (1935), one in psychology (1973) and one in physical education (1978). His third doctorate was for his thesis on Evolution of Modern Games.
Danie Craven was accepted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997, the first of 9 South Africans to date. In 2007 he became the third inductee into the IRB Hall of Fame, only preceded by Rugby School and William Webb Ellis, the alleged instigator of the game that would develop into rugby union.
The South African Craven Week schools rugby competition is named after him, as well as the Danie Craven Stadium and Danie Craven Rugby Museum in Stellenbosch. Craven had a dog named "Bliksem" which accompanied him everywhere, even to rugby practices. A journalist recalled how "when Doc and Bliksem were on the touchline at training, no one within sight would dare shirk". To commemorate him, Stellenbosch University commissioned sculptor Pierre Volschenk to execute a bronze sculpture of Craven and his faithful dog Bliksem. The statue stands within the grounds of the Coertzenburg sports complex in Stellenbosch. In 1981 Craven received the State President's Award for Exceptional Service, as well as the honorary citizenship of the city of Stellenbosch. He was made an honorary life president of the French Rugby Federation in 1992.
Craven has written extensively on rugby. Apart from his academic dissertations, Craven wrote numerous books as solo and co-author on rugby, including his autobiography in 1949, how to organize a tennis club in 1951 and rugby terms for translators in1972. According to The Independent of London "his coaching manual Rugby Handbook (1970) is a standard".