Ross is ready for Bok scrumhalf role

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DARRYN POL­LOCK

SINCE the great Fourie du Preez start­ing los­ing his grip on the No 9 jersey for the Boks, there have been a slew of ex­cit­ing, yet raw, tal­ents lin­ing up to try and oc­cupy that all-im­por­tant po­si­tion.

In the lat­est call up of scrumhalves, there are a few fa­mil­iar faces in the Bok green, but the name that sticks out as a favourite to pro­vide the much needed sta­bil­ity is the to­tally green Ross Cronje.

A debu­tant he may be, but Cronje has all the qual­i­ties that an adrift Spring­bok team could use.

Cronje is now 27, but he, and his twin brother Guy, with their shock of blonde hair still in­voke in­cred­i­ble me­mories from the 2007 Craven week where they tore teams apart for KwaZulu-Na­tal. They were al­ready be­ing spo­ken of back then as a dreamy 9, 10 com­bi­na­tion for the Boks, but it has been a long wait for the men­tally tough Ross.

When the twins were Un­der16, at Michael­house, they broke prece­dent by be­ing called up to play for their school’s first team. Once it was all cleared with par­ents and Rec­tors alike, it was a move that di­rec­tor of rugby at the school, Ryno Com­brinck, has never looked back on.

“It started when they were Un­der-16,” Com­brinck, rel­a­tive to an­other Spring­bok in Ruan Com­brink, ex­plained. “Con­tro­ver­sially, I phoned the Rec­tor – who was in Aus­tralia – and asked for per­mis­sion to in­clude them into the first team, it was not some­thing that had been done be­fore, but what they had shown in their abil­ity, and their de­ter­mi­na­tion, war­ranted the phone call.”

That in­deed has been the key to Ross Conje’s call up – his de­ter­mi­na­tion. Com­brink re­marks eas­ily and al­most non­cha­lantly how as­tute of a scrumhalf Cronje is, tick­ing all the boxes from pass­ing, kick­ing, at­tack and de­fence, but it is men­tal for­ti­tude that sep­a­rates him from the pack.

Com­pet­i­tive­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion are what spring to the mind of the di­rec­tor of rugby that had so much to do with Conje’s for­ma­tive years. Both Ross and Guy were al­ways putting in the extra work when no one was watch­ing, all for the end goal of mak­ing a suc­cess of their rugby lives.

“Ross has that men­tal tough­ness,” Com­brinck added. “What he has done at the mo­ment, and what peo­ple are not notic­ing, is he has out- played the in­cum­bent Spring­bok scrumhalf... out of the Lions and the Boks, and peo­ple miss that.”

It is a good point that Com­brinck raises; Faf de Klerk, such hot prop­erty for both the Lions and the Boks last year, has been com­ing off the bench in Johannesburg and has not been con­sid­ered na­tion­ally.

The con­trast be­tween the two is ob­vi­ous, and to put it an­other way, De Klerk is your pinch-hit­ter no 7 Bats­man in a cricket team – A ‘Boom-Boom’ Afridi-type, whereas Cronje is the clas­si­cal opener.

“Ross will bring a calmer mind, like an open­ing bats­man,” Com­brinck de­scribed quite ef­fec­tively.

“He was also a very good crick­eter, play­ing first team at Michael­house, and like an opener, he brings calm in the heat of the mo­ment on a rugby pitch.”

“The mar­gins at Test level are so small, so you have to make much bet­ter de­ci­sions. Some of the other scrumhalves are wild, which has its mer­its, but you need a guy that is team­first, and that kind of sta­bil­ity will be good for a guy like (El­ton) Jan­tjies, and good for the team, as well as the coach.”

In­deed, the Boks have had their share of scrumhalves that en­joy a run and can make a bit of magic hap­pen. Cobus Reinach, De Klerk, even Francois Hougaard, in the squad for the French se­ries, all have a skill set that can­not be coached. But per­haps this is not what the Boks need in their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

“Ross brings a lot of ver­sa­til­ity and calm­ness – kind of what you would ex­pect from a good crick­eter,” Com­brinck con­cluded.

You would have to say that Conje is in­deed the form scrumhalf in the coun­try, with Francois Hougaard play­ing for Bristol, in Eng­land, and Rudi Paige struggling to even make the start­ing line-up of a poor Bulls team.

How­ever, there is a lot that this group of three scrumhalves can bring to the Boks as a col­lec­tive. Paige and Hougaard are ex­pe­ri­enced Boks, with the lat­ter hav­ing that much-loved X-Fac­tor.

Paige has promised much since his se­lec­tion for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 as an un­capped player. He was cho­sen ahead of Reinach, who had a very con­trast­ing style to the Bulls man, per­haps for that very rea­son – a hope of sta­bil­ity and calm­ness to be in­fused from the base of the ruck and scrum.

How­ever, the Bulls man is yet to fire on full cylin­ders in a Bok jersey. Soon he will need to re­pay the faith shown in him, and one can only hope that this ex­tended run for the National side is build­ing his con­fi­dence to match his po­ten­tial.

Hougaard has been a name on the lips of many pun­dits since Du Preez hung up his boots. Again, the tattooed Bristol-based scrum­mie was a jux­ta­po­si­tion of his long­time men­tor Du Preez, both at the Bulls and the Boks.

Hougaard has had the in­struc­tion of one of the finest scrumhalves of the mod­ern era, but he is also fully his own man and brings some­thing very spe­cial to the field. The hope again would be that the for­mer Bulls man has ma­tured his game in Eng­land – where he is a cult hero – to be a true game man­ager, while still bring­ing a heap of X-fac­tor to a Bok side look­ing to evolve.

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