Super Rugby


Know Your Enemy - Lionel Cronje

By Jim Tucker - Chief Rugby Writer for The Courier-Mail


Lionel Cronje dramatically reshaped perceptions of himself as a player with one sleight-of-hand moment of magic against the Western Force in Perth last weekend.

Until that instant, the tall Southern Kings flyhalf was the definition of a Rugby journeyman, technically sound but much better known for collecting clubs than trophies.

Cronje, 27, had played at the Stormers, Brumbies and Sharks before finding his home at No.10 for the Kings this season.

In truth, Cronje may have been a backline fixture for the Kings before now if the club had existed during his school days.

Cronje is a product of Queen's College, a school in Queenstown some 160km from East London in the heart of the Eastern Cape, which is the region that South African Rugby has been so keen to nurture with their newest yet oft-troubled Super Rugby franchise.

Cronje defended the Kings and spoke up for their future last Sunday when the news first came through from SANZAAR that two South African clubs and one Australian team would be axed in the Super Rugby revamp for next year.

"I was schooled in the Eastern Cape at Queen's College, and for me growing up in the Eastern Cape there was never a professional side," he said.

"I think we all know that if the opportunity is there to go out and support professional players and have heroes it just motivates you to chase your dreams and have ambition.

"There are some players that come from disadvantaged areas in the Eastern Cape that get great opportunities to go somewhere in life and it (professional Rugby) provides them with a platform where they can grow.

"We’ve got some of those guys in our team who have taken the opportunity that Rugby has provided them so it’s of utmost importance if the possibility is there to have Rugby in the Eastern Cape."

Cronje and his Kings used the drama surrounding the club's future as a spur when they played the Force and it fed into a 12-try spectacle that showed their sparkle despite a 46-41 loss.

"I think if anything it was motivation for both sides to put on a great game of Rugby," he said.

"With 12 tries I think it was a good game. For us it was just about focusing on the things that we can control." 

Did we mention that moment of genius from Cronje?

Just after the hour mark, Cronje received the ball from an attacking ruck platform.
He swept the ball around his waist with a 360 degree move from left hand to right hand, dabbed a pinpoint right foot grubber and fullback Malcolm Jaer collected the perfectly bouncing ball for a try.

The Force defenders couldn't believe it and stalled momentarily as if they'd seen a Carlos Spencer knee kick reincarnated or a vintage Quade Cooper behind-the-back flick pass.

Cronje, Jaer and teammates celebrated with broad smiles and back slaps, a clear sign that the imperiled Kings are still enjoying themselves.

Earlier, Cronje had speared through poor defence to set up another try from deep in his own territory to show that the St.George Queensland Reds have a danger man to watch out for.

Kings coach Deon Davids has coached for 27 years and has nearly always guided teams that have battled for recognition and rewards the hard way.

“If you look at my CV, you can clearly see that in my coaching career I’ve never had the opportunity to work with the best guys. I’ve always dealt with teams that were in trouble,” Davids told leading South African journalist Simnikiwe Xabanisa.

"My whole career has prepared me to coach the way I do.”

As ever with battling sides, the Kings have made the most of players hungry for a chance, guys like Cronje.

Cronje was disillusioned when he bumped into Davids, one of his former coaches, at the airport in East London.

Cronje may have opted for early retirement but Davids gave him a chance to guide the Kings.

Xabanisa further described how Davids spotted Andisa Ntsila working out in a gym and asked him if he played Rugby.

The answer was "not seriously" yet he's been turned into a running, linking backrower.

The Reds will do well not to underestimate the Kings.

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