Masters of Wits a study in divergence
Ackermann’s Mr Dependable is the man you want playing at the rear of the Lion’s powerful pack
YOU would have heard the expression: “Like a good red wine, he gets better with age”. Well, that’s Ross Cronje for you.
The Lions No 9 is certainly getting better and better as the years go by. Right now he’s on top of his game – a good thing, too, seeing he’s the first choice Springbok scrumhalf and such a key man for the Lions.
And what a role he has to play this weekend when the Crusaders visit Ellis Park for the Super Rugby final.
At 28, there’s not much Cronje still has to learn about the game, or himself, for that matter, and that’s why he is so fully trusted by his coaches. He knows what they want from him, and he gives it to them. No frills, no fuss.
It has been a long, and at times trying, journey to this point, but it is all working out well for Cronje.
Having joined the Lions from the Sharks in 2012, he initially had to play behind Michael Bondesio and a few others at the Lions, but eventually forced his way into the starting team, only for Faf de Klerk to emerge on the scene and literally steal his thunder.
It became a battle between Cronje and De Klerk for the No 9 jersey and it’s no secret De Klerk won that fight in 2015.
The former Pumas man stole the show with his energy, his sniping runs and try-scoring feats and became the Bok first choice last season.
An indifferent showing for Allister Coetzee’s team and news that he would be heading to Europe at the end of Super Rugby, opened the door for Cronje to finally get the recognition he has so deserved.
He took every opportunity given to him and just about forced coach Johan Ackermann to throw his rotation policy out the window and pick him.
Cronje’s form in the Super Rugby competition this year has been outstanding from the start and it came as no surprise when, in June, Coetzee dropped De Klerk from the Bok squad in favour of Cronje.
The reasons were simple: Cronje was simply a steadier operator, he was dependable and you knew what you were going to get from him.
Some critics have called him boring – because he’s not as flashy as De Klerk, or as influential as Fourie du Preez – but he does everything asked of him, and more. Cronje has won praise for his allround game and consistency in form. He does his key functions well, which is pass strongly and accurately and kick well out of hand. He also reads the game, which allows him to make telling breaks, around the fringes, but also in open play.
What makes him such a standout player is the fact he so seldom really stands out. He simply gets on with his job and keeps mistakes to a minimum.
Cronje has been superb for the Lions for some time now and it’s no surprise he’s been handed a leadership role, having regularly captained the team. He’s a calm figure, with a level head on his shoulders, doesn’t get flustered or lose his cool. And that’s what makes a great No 9.
Over the last few seasons Cronje has stood up to some of the best scrumhalves in the game and never looked out of place. Ask any South African who’d be their preferred candidate to play behind the Lions pack against the Crusaders in Saturday’s final and you’d get plenty of them saying Cronje. He’s just the perfect fit. THE supposed heir to the Steven Pienaar throne – the king playmaker in South African football – blames himself for not following in the royal steps laid for him.
Bidvest Wits’ Daylon Claasen, was viewed as the man to take over from Pienaar,
in making Bafana Bafana tick.
But instead of taking over from Pienaar, the 27-year-old dropped off the radar after playing in the 2009 Under-20 World Cup. He only made brief cameos in the Bafana setup thereafter and wandered in The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Germany before coming home.
“The reason I didn’t reach that level is lack of consistency,” Claasen said. “My game was on-andoff. That’s one thing I am looking to improve this season. I don’t blame anyone for what happened. You must look at yourself before you look at other people because the key to changing whatever is wrong lies with you, not other people. Being critical of yourself isn’t always bad. It’s good because you can be honest and say that I did badly here and this is how I will improve. You learn from that.” Claasen now calls Pienaar his teammate. “I am happy that I am able to play with him before he hangs up his boots, because ‘Schillo’ isn’t a youngster,” Claasen said with a chuckle.
The pair are the Clever Boys’ marquee signings. Kobamelo Kodisang, Bokang Thlone and centreback Slavko Damjanovic from Montenegro are the other signings the Absa Premiership champions made.
“I’ve seen Daylon grow up from the days at Ajax (Amsterdam),” Pienaar said. “He has matured into a quality player. I have always been his fan. I am really happy to be in the same team with him. He has always looked up to me and I give him advice. I am happy the way he has progressed in his career. Journalists always write that this is the next so-and-so but I think that he has his own talent and his own abilities to become someone special in South Africa.”
There will be no time for Claasen to be inconsistent at Wits. The Milpark-based side have a solid squad of midfielders and then there is the hardto-please Gavin Hunt, the coach.
“The difference between the boy I left South Africa as and the man I am returning as, isn’t that much,” Claasen said. “But I am more aware of what’s happening around me, in terms of the football and the lifestyle of how to behave on and off the field. My ambition and my work rate are still there. As a child I wanted to go to Europe. I was blessed enough to get the opportunity to do that. Coming back, I don’t think that it’s a step back. I feel that it’s growth because the league has evolved here.”