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Behind the scenes

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Ackermann’s Mr Dependable is the man you want playing at the rear of the Lions’ powerful pack

Lions No 9 Ross Cronjé is expected to have another solid, disciplined game in Saturdays Super Rugby final against the Canterbury Crusaders at their Ellis Park fortress.

YOU would have heard the expression: “Like a good red wine, he gets better with age”.

Well, that’s Ross Cronjé 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 Cronjé 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 Cronjé.

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 steal his thunder.

It became a battle between Cronjé and De Klerk for that sought-after No 9 jersey and it’s no secret De Klerk won that fight in 2015.

Stole the show

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 Cronjé 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.

Cronjé’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 Cronjé.

The reasons were simple: Cronjé 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.

Cronjé has won praise for his all-round 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.

Cronjé 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 Cronjé 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 Cronjé. He’s just the perfect fit.

Jacques van der Westhuyzen