Cronje shining in Sharks jersey
Gareth Jenkinson - The Witness
Durban - Sharks flyhalf Lionel Cronje has been the talk of the town since he sparked the Durban outfit’s attacking play on tour which culminated in a tour-ending win over the Reds last week.
Backline coach Sean Everitt tipped his hat to the journeyman flyhalf on Monday, as Cronje has had to wait a long time to get back into Super Rugby.
After stints at the Lions, Bulls, Stormers and the Brumbies, Cronje has made Durban his home and enjoyed a solid run in the Currie Cup last year.
However, he had to wait for Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie to be injured before he could grab his chance to pull the strings at pivot.
Despite the long wait, the talented flyhalf took over from Fred Zeilinga - who failed to give the Sharks the direction they desperately needed against the Highlanders in their first match on tour. Cronje was elevated to the starting XV the following weekend and impressed both fans and pundits with his attacking flair.
The humble 26-year-old was all smiles after practice yesterday but his confidence was matched by his humility.
When asked how he felt about finally getting a starting berth, Cronje echoed his sentiments when he joined the Durban outfit last year.
“It’s been the same as the Currie Cup. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity. It’s been a long time since I’ve played Super Rugby - I think the start I got overseas was the first one in four years.
“It was a long wait for me and personally I’m very chuffed that I’m getting the opportunity to represent the Sharks at Super Rugby level,” Cronje said.
The Sharks have struggled to get their attacking play going all season, but Cronje’s ability to take the ball up to the defensive line and keep defenders guessing made all the difference on tour.
Having spent time with Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham at the Brumbies, Cronje admitted he enjoys playing running rugby. He tipped his hat to his teammates and coaches for allowing him to play to his strengths.
“Under the coaching of Stephen Larkham and those guys at the Brumbies, I learned a lot there. So I’ve tried to bring that in as well. Luckily the coaches have allowed me to express that part of my game and it’s really helped me and the team to adapt to the way I play,” Cronje said.
“We felt as a team we needed to evolve our attack if we wanted to compete.
“Obviously I enjoy playing with the ball so it has suited me personally. However, the team has evolved well in the last couple of weeks in holding the ball; I think we’ve had a good success rate in turning over the ball in the last three weeks which has been a main focus for us - to utilise those opportunities. I’ve really enjoyed playing an exciting brand of rugby and running it a bit more.”
While the pivot most certainly was a catalyst, his half back partner Stefan Ungerer has had a fair amount to do with the new found attacking flair. The young scrumhalf stepped up in the absence of Springbok Cobus Reinach on tour, and Cronje could only sing praises of the former Maritzburg College pupil.
“I think he’s got a great pass and a great knowledge of the game - his awareness is awesome and it’s just really been a fun, exciting challenge for us to take the opportunity and hopefully we can keep the combination going.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s clash with the Rebels, Cronje was the perfect person to give insight into the Australian outfit’s play.
“I think the Rebels are very similar to all Australian sides. They hold onto the ball really well - we’re going to have to be very clinical at the breakdowns if we want to keep possession. We’ve worked hard on defence, it’s an area that we’ve given a lot of attention to in the last couple of weeks. The Australian sides, as we know, are very good with ball in hand so we are just going to try and eliminate them on defence - that’s what will win us the game this weekend.”
The Sharks host the Rebels on Friday. Kick-off is at 19:10.