Representing the Baby Boks has been the first step towards becoming a fully fledged Springbok for many a talented, young player, and Shimlas flyhalf is hoping to follow the same route.
Cronjé was selected for the SA U20 touring squad that went to Argentina in February and is now hoping to force his way into Eric Saul’s final squad for the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan in June.
The versatile 19-year-old has played at flyhalf and fullback, but it is in the No 10 jersey where he believes his talents are best utilised.
‘I’m very proud of my kicking game and I think my distribution is also one of my greatest assets,’ says Cronjé. ‘The tour to Argentina went very well and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I got quite a lot of game time at flyhalf which was a big positive for me.’
Securing the pivot role for the Junior World Championship will be a tough challenge for the former Queen’s College pupil as he faces stiff competition from some of the country’s best young flyhalves.
‘I’m going up against two very good rivals in the form of Sias Ebersohn and Francois Brummer, who are both playing Vodacom Cup rugby and went to last year’s Junior World Champs in Wales. It certainly won’t be an easy task trying to get my hands on the No 10 jersey, but it’s a challenge that I’m really looking forward to.’
Cronjé’s coach at Shimlas, Jaco Swanepoel, speaks highly of the youngster’s work rate and believes he has what it takes to play at the highest level.
‘Lionel has a very bright career ahead of him,’ says Swanepoel. ‘He has a fantastic attitude. When he returned from Argentina he was made to sit on the bench because we had just come off a very good result over Tuks [in the Varsity Cup] and I didn’t want to change things. But he never once dropped his head, instead he told me he was going to work even harder to get his place back in the team, even though he was not left out because of his form.’
Swanepoel believes Cronjé’s versatility could stand him in good stead when Eric Sauls makes his final selection for the Junior World Championship.
‘He has the ability to play at both fullback and flyhalf due to his size [93kg, 1.84m] and I believe that he is more than capable of slotting in at inside centre too. That for me puts him ahead of the other two in the pecking order.’
By Andrew Worling