There’s a stale joke about Lionel Cronje aiming to play for every union in South African rugby.
It’s certainly felt that way given that he’s played for the Cheetahs, Western Province, Blue Bulls, Lions and Sharks over the years without settling.
Now he’s the man entrusted with steering the Kings’ backline in this year’s Super Rugby campaign.
The sad thing about Cronje’s career is that all his moves don’t indicate a player who simply isn’t good enough.
In fact, the 27-year-old utility back was considered a prodigy, a young player good enough to be recruited by Rassie Erasmus for the Stormers and Laurie Fisher at the Brumbies.
But with each failed stint, the doubts over Cronje’s ability increased.
It became so bad, he didn’t even bother to find a gig in 2016.
Barely four months into 2017, Cronje is now the Kings’ captain against the Lions in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
It took 16 attempts for him to miss his first place kick; he has distributed well and tackled manfully.
Cronje, in other words, has been a key player for South Africa’s supposed lightweights in Super Rugby.
And he’s performing well exactly because sceptics probably don’t think he will.
“Lionel has been around a long time and he understands what is expected of him in Super Rugby,” said Deon Davids, the Kings coach.
“He has been a central part of our leadership group until now. From a performance point of view, he has also played some good rugby. It’s a good opportunity for him. It is a natural thing, as vice-captain, to take this position.”
Cronje himself noted how he captain some of his sides at age-group level and enjoys the added responsibility.
Yet it’s his form that is the happiest development from this new phase of his career.
For once, Cronje can boast a bit about his play – especially his kicking.
“Kicking has been a part of my game that’s been criticised before,” he said.
“I’m really pleased that it’s gone so well this season. I wanted to prove the doubters wrong. I probably had to miss a place kick sometime, so maybe it’s good that I have that monkey off my back.”
Kings: Malcolm Jaer, Makazole Mapimpi, Berton Klaasen, Waylon Murray, Alshaun Bock, Lionel Cronje, Louis Schreuder, Ruaan Lerm, Andisa Ntsila, Chris Cloete, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Irne Herbst, Ross Geldenhuys, Kurt Haupt, Schalk van der Merwe. Bench: Mikey Willemse, Chris Heiberg, Justin Forwood, Tyler Paul, Stefan Willemse, Johan Steyn, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Luzuko Vulindlu.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Bench: Akker van der Merwe, Sti Sithole, Hencus van Wyk, Lourens Erasmus, Kwagga Smith, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Sylvian Mahuza.