Cronje: Why Sharks are different to other SA teams
Lionel Cronje could be labelled the ultimate journeyman, a moniker he would happily shed with a permanent team in South Africa.
The 32-year-old – equally at home at flyhalf, centre and fullback – is on a loan stint with the Sharks for the Currie Cup season.
Born in Bloemfontein and schooled at Queen’s College in the Border region, Cronje’s list of former teams include Cheetahs, Stormers, Western Province, Bulls, Lions, Brumbies, Southern Kings and Verblitz.
He also had a two-year stint with the Sharks in 2014 and 2015.
At Verblitz his teammates include fellow South Africans Willie le Roux and Jason Jenkins.
Having struggled to find a ‘home’ in South Africa, he is not opposed to return again one day and possibly play in the United Rugby Championship for a local team.
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“It would be really excited to see what opportunities would come from this short stint,” Cronje said about his Currie Cup loan deal with the Sharks.
“I love South Africa,” he said, adding: “I want to live in South Africa and add value to the younger players.”
Cronje, a former Baby Bok with more than 130 first-class games to his credit, will play a key role for the Sharks in the Currie Cup semifinal against Griquas in Durban on Saturday.
He said his current stint has been very enjoyable, because coach Sean Everitt allows them the freedom to ‘express themselves’ and creates an environment that fosters success.
He spoke of the more expansive approach the Sharks have, as opposed to the restrictive game plans of most South African teams.
“That is the kind of rugby the Sharks want to play,” Cronje told a virtual media briefing in the build-up to Saturday’s Currie Cup semifinal.
“It allows us to flourish. It allows us to play an attacking brand of rugby.
“We try to play an exciting brand that’s captivating and a bit different to a lot of teams in South Africa.
“It definitely starts with the game model that the Sharks tried to implement over the last few years – with [coach] Sean Everitt at the helm.
“I worked with Sean when I was here before,” he said of his stint in 2014 and 2015.
“He is a positive coach, who wants us to express ourselves and to spot the opportunities on the field, where we can express those talents.
“With this young group of players – the energy they bring to the game – provides for that kind of game to be played.
“Hopefully, we can build on that.
“All the players can play with a bit of expression and freedom, which has been really nice and very refreshing.”
Cronje, after a couple of impressive seasons at the Southern Kings, teamed up with current Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White at Verblitz in Japan.
He has matured since 2017 and has enjoyed giving back to the game in the last couple of months.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience since coming back [to South Africa,” Cronje said.
“It’s been a great opportunity for me to get involved in local rugby and try to add as much value to the younger group of players at the Sharks.
“They have tried to develop a certain culture here.
“I feel like I’ve fitted in really nicely, and I can add great value to the young players.
“They have a very young group and a very talented group – with all the guys being away at the Springboks.
“The opportunity for experienced players to add value in the group was necessary and it was nice to fill that gap.
“The experience [to play at the Sharks] was awesome for me.”
Cronje will be looking to reach the Currie Cup Final for the first time since 2010, when he was a member of the Western Province team that lost 10-30 to the Sharks in Durban.