Lionel's big chance
Cape Town – Will Lionel Cronjé finally make his mark after a rollercoaster ride at Western Province?
The 22-year-old has not yet realised his potential following the decision to leave Bloemfontein for the Cape in 2010.
However, the Stormers’ hopes are now pinned on him after both Peter Grant and Gary van Aswegen suffered injuries.
Cronjé got more than an hour’s game time in the Stormers’ last Super Rugby match – a 33-19 win over the Lions in Johannesburg – after Van Aswegen had to leave the field with a knee injury.
He did a few good things on attack and clearly has an educated boot. At the same time his unforced errors – he twice kicked the ball directly into touch from kick-offs – is a source of concern.
Cronjé was used a few times as fullback in WP’s Vodacom Cup team this year, while the Stormers preferred Van Aswegen as back-up to Grant.
It is a fact that the Stormers’ brains trust are mostly accurate in their judgement on players, but in the case of Cronjé it’s debatable whether they have really managed to make full use of his talent.
Cronjé, after all, was named South Africa’s under-20 player of the year at the end of 2009 after the Baby Boks had won the bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in Japan.
He was then signed up with great fanfare by WP together with senior Springboks such as Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie.
Cronjé was on the Stormers’ substitutes bench for their first five games last year, but was only sent on against the Lions and Highlanders for 10 and 8 minutes respectively.
His career at WP went into a downward spiral when he got involved in a fight after last year’s 37-13 win over the Hurricanes and was briefly in police custody.
The Stormers then suspended him for two weeks for breaching their code of conduct. Willem de Waal was then used off their bench and Cronjé did not play Super Rugby for the rest of the tournament.
Coetzee then also made the decision that De Waal’s boot would be a crucial component in his Currie Cup campaign. That meant that Cronjé only started once – against the Leopards at Newlands. He was used nine times as a substitute in the Currie Cup.
Van Aswegen was ever-present for the WP under-21 side and progressed to Grant’s understudy at the Stormers this year.
In contrast to WP’s management of Cronjé, the Sharks gave Patrick Lambie a baptism of fire at senior level last year. Lambie still played fullback for the SA under-20 side last season, but was a key player for the Sharks in the Currie Cup and started 10 games at flyhalf.
His highlight was the final against WP in which he scored 25 of the Sharks’ points in their 30-10 victory.
On Saturday, Lambie and Cronjé will face off at Newlands.
The Sharks star got substantially more opportunities from his coaching staff over the past year.
Even so, Cronjé could not have asked for a better opportunity to show that he has a future in the Cape. It’s time for him to serve WP a reminder why they contracted him in the first place.
Cronjé will also have to deal with the pressure of goalkicking. If he shows he’s up to it in this encounter, he will surely get the recognition that has thus far evaded him in the Cape.