Injuries and a lack of game time may have curtailed Lionel Cronjé's career in the last two years, but he is ready to express himself at Ellis Park.
Released to the Lions after signing with the Bulls last year, Cronjé now gets the opportunity he so craved after moving from Cape Town - where the 23-year-old played 20-odd matches for Western Province and had seven Super Rugby outings with the Stormers in 2010 and 2011.
A talented player who can play both a kicking and a running game, he can also play fullback and centre.
He was rated very highly by the coaching staff in the Western Cape, but injury put the breaks on his progress. Cronjé then moved to the Bulls last year, but was forced to undergo surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle and missed the entire Super Rugby season. He eventually made four Currie Cup appearances late in the year.
But that could all change now that he is in the Lions squad for their challenge series - which have already seen them thrash both Russia and the Cheetahs.
It was against the Cheetahs last Saturday, a 33-17 win, that Cronjé showed just why he had so many fans before his departure from Cape Town.
He was one of the key instigators in the Lions' second-half rally - which saw them come back from 7-17 down to score 26 unanswered points and ease clear of the Cheetahs.
"Having had a big knee injury in 2011 and my pectoral injury last year limited me personally from playing at Super Rugby level," Cronjé said, adding that the goal had always been to play at the highest level.
"Just to get on the field and get the exposure is definitely a big part of my goal this year and I am fortunate enough to have that opportunity at the Lions this year," told this website in an exclusive interview.
Obviously the Lions' expansive style of play is vastly different to the more structured approaches employed by both the Bulls and Stormers.
However, Cronjé is happy to play an game.
"Both styles of rugby [expansive and structured] have their pros and cons," he told this website.
"Obviously I enjoy having the opportunity to express myself a lot more, but also more than that it is a team environment.
"As a team at the Lions we understand the way we want to play and we really enjoy that."
While expansive and the Lions are synonymous, Cronjé has dismissed the notion that the men from Johannesburg lack structure.
"We definitely have systems in place on defence and attack," he said, adding: "I would not say we play just off the cuff at the Lions.
"We do have some structure in place, but we also have the freedom to make whatever choices we are comfortable on the field.
"While we definitely have structures in place, which we work very hard on, we also do have the freedom to express ourselves when the opportunity arises."
By Jan de Koning
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