Southern Kings flyhalf Lionel Cronje has been in inspired form. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - At 28 and having turned out for no less than eight different unions or clubs Lionel Cronje is no rookie. But on Sunday when he runs out against the Lions he’ll face arguably one of the biggest tests of his career.

The Southern Kings No 10 has been one of the standout players for his team this season, so much so that he’s been included in the South Africa “A” team for next month’s two-match series against the French Barbarians. In fact, so well has he performed that many felt he should have been included in Allister Coetzee’s Test squad.

Either way, Cronje is playing the best rugby of his career and he’s contributed greatly to the Kings’ much-improved showing in 2017 compared to last year, when he was very much in the rugby wilderness. He’s finally become the player many thought he’d become when he was a junior.

Not only has Cronje stepped up as his team’s director; he’s kicked well at goal and out of hand, he’s got his backline operating beautifully and he’s manned up in defence. He’s been the complete package so far.

But on Sunday when the Kings visit Ellis Park to face the Lions - who’ve gone 12 games with only one defeat - in the final Super Rugby match before the June break it’ll be a completely different challenge for the man who’s run out for several sides over the years but never found a home.

After initially turning out for Border he featured for the Cheetahs, then Western Province and the Stormers before moving north to the Bulls and then he also had a spell with the Lions. Then it was off to Australia and the Brumbies where he played three matches for the Canberra-based side before returning to South Africa and the Sharks. Now he’s at the Kings, where he’s led the side in the last few weeks following a competition-ending injury to Schalk Ferreira.

Opposing Cronje on Sunday will be the man who’s again been given the greenlight to wear the Springbok No 10 jersey this season - Elton Jantjies.

The Lions man has been in stupendous form of late and while flyhalves don’t always end up battling each other over the 80 minutes of a rugby match, Cronje’s rise up the pecking order this season will be put to the test by Jantjies and the Lions on Sunday.

Not only will the Kings man be up against the Ellis Park crowd, at a venue where the Lions haven’t lost in 12 matches, dating back to April 30 last year, he’ll also face the most accomplished attacking outfit in South Africa, and among the best in the competition, so defensively he’ll know all about it.

If it’s not going to be Jantjies or Harold Vorster running at him, it may well be Warren Whiteley, or Ruan Ackermann, or Jaco Kriel. Or Franco Mostert, or Malcolm Marx - quite a different scenario to what he’s faced up to now.

Cronje is fully deserving of being called up to the “A” side, as is Jantjies for the Boks ... how they perform on Sunday will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.

The Star

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