Ross Cronje said the Cheetahs would start as favourites because they’re playing at home. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – There was a time some 10 years ago that Ross Cronje and Ruan Pienaar were teammates at the Sharks and either played or trained alongside each other, but tomorrow in Bloemfontein they will go up against each other in the 2019 Currie Cup final. And the Sharks aren’t even involved.

Lions captain Cronje, who at 30 is five years the junior of Cheetahs No 9 Pienaar, said he was excited about going up against his former teammate. With Pienaar having played abroad, at Ulster and more recently Montpellier, since 2010, the two scrumhalves would never have opposed each other in a competitive match.

“Ruan’s a class act,” said Cronje, who’ll feature in his second Currie Cup final for the Lions since joining the Joburg team in 2012. He was Man of the Match the last time the Lions won the final, in 2015, when they beat Western Province.

“I used to play with Ruan at Sharks back in the day.

“It’s important though to not focus on individuals ... if you play the man you forget about doing the job. And that’s key for a team to be successful.”

Looking back at the 2015 final at Ellis Park, Cronje, who scored two tries and sparked his team into action, said it would be nice if things could work out the same way tomorrow but everything depended on the opportunities that came his way.

“Well, if the opportunity presents itself (I’d like to have the same sort of impact),” he said. “But, you also can’t be stupid and try and do everything yourself.

“If the gap is there though you’ve got to take it, but if it’s not then you must try put someone else into the gap. You must play smart in a final ... I think that’s one of my strengths at moment; being able to read a game.”

Cronje said the Cheetahs would start as favourites because they’re playing at home, but quickly added his young team wouldn’t fear running out in front of 40 000 fans at Toyota Stadium. “Home advantage does count, but we’ve been a bit better away from home this season anyway,” said Cronje, referring to the Lions’ away wins in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Kimberley.

“At the end of the day it’s all about one’s mindset, and anyway, the youngsters coming through in this team will play anywhere.”

In the only change to the Lions team that beat Griquas last weekend, loosehead prop Sti Sithole misses out after tearing his calf muscle in training yesterday, opening the way for Dylan Smith to start. Rookie Nathan McBeth is on the bench.

The Cheetahs meanwhile have also made a few changes from last week’s win against the Sharks. Flank Gerhard Olivier swaps places with Abongile Nonkontwana, while Charles Marais comes in on the bench in place of Schalk van der Merwe.

@jacq_west

 

The Star

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