Lions turn to captain Ross Cronjé for leadership in Currie Cup final
Cronjé says team that handles pressure best will likely be lifting the trophy
Much of this week’s Currie Cup final talk has revolved around the Golden Lions’ relative inexperience and how that might cost them against the well travelled and rampant Free State Cheetahs.
Lions captain Ross Cronjé‚ however‚ believes it is from the ranks of the uninitiated that the visitors will draw inspiration in Saturday’s final in Bloemfontein.
“I don’t think the youngsters know what pressure is‚” Cronjé said of the devil-may-care attitude they may adopt at times.
The scrumhalf brought up the matter of pressure as it tends to be amplified in finals.
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The Lions beat the Cheetahs 24-22 at the start of August, but Cronjé stressed that the occasion on Saturday demands that the team that handles the pressure best will most likely get their hands on the trophy.
The Lions certainly will not be trading on their success of a month ago.
“It’s in the past‚” Cronjé said of that win. “So we are focusing on this weekend. It is a completely different challenge. It is a different ball game playing in the final. There is more pressure.”
The Lions will turn to Cronjé for leadership. He is the only survivor from the 22 that beat Western Province in the 2015 final‚ the last time the Lions played in the showpiece event. Cronjé scored two tries in a man-of-the-match performance.
His tussle with veteran Cheetahs scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is likely to be one of the abiding features of this weekend’s clash. Cronjé has deep respect for the player he shared a change room with at the Sharks a decade or so ago.
The Lions were forced into a late change with loosehead prop Sti Sithole withdrawing after he tore a calf muscle early in training on Thursday.
“He had a great season‚” said coach Ivan van Rooyen. “Obviously it is a bit of a setback but it is another opportunity for Nathan [McBeth] to come onto the bench. Another youngster‚ we are excited about him.”
Van Rooyen talked up the Cheetahs, whose quick tempo game has been built on the back of set-piece excellence.
Van Rooyen also cautioned that the Cheetahs can attack from everywhere, adding that “they want to speed up the game. We must stay in the moment and be ready. You never know what to expect from the Free State.”
A fast game is likely to take its toll on both sides in the latter stages, but the Cheetahs have proved to be strong finishers in recent weeks.
“Three‚ four weeks ago you asked how are we going to start better‚” Van Rooyen said of the Lions’ habit of digging themselves a hole before getting out of it early in the campaign.
“It is still a factor. They want to play the last 20‚ 30 minutes and we are aware of that‚” said Van Rooyen.
Cronjé‚ meanwhile‚ holds the view that while home ground advantage brings familiar comforts‚ it is by no means a defining factor. The Lions won on the road against Western Province‚ the Cheetahs and Griquas in the league stages.
“To a certain degree it is‚” he said. “We’ve been a bit better away from home this season. That is just a mind-set. The youngsters coming through‚ they’ll play anywhere.”
Golden Lions team to play Free State Cheetahs: Tyrone Green; Madosh Tambwe‚ Wandisile Simelane‚ Duncan Matthews‚ Stean Pienaar; Shaun Reynolds‚ Ross Cronje (captain); Hacjivah Dayimani‚ Cyle Brink‚ Marnus Schoeman; Marvin Orie‚ Ruben Schoeman; Jacobie Adriaanse‚ Pieter Jansen‚ Dylan Smith.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher‚ Nathan McBeth‚ Johannes Jonker‚ Wilhelm van der Sluys‚ Len Massyn; Dillon Smit‚ Jan-Louis la Grange‚ Jamba Ulengo.