Another loss for Sables

HARARE - Local rugby fans watched with both glee and worry as another starlet, who has Zimbabwean roots, ran onto the pitch in the colours of a foreign land at the weekend.

Scrumhalf Ross Cronje, who has Zimbabwean grandparents, justified his inclusion into the Springbok setup with a star performance during last Saturday’s 37-14 Test win over France at Loftus Versfeld.

Before capping his debut with a try from a well-worked line-out routine, Ross had dedicated the match to his twin-brother Guy, who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2015.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer which forced Guy to prematurely end his rugby career.

But before the illness set in, Guy had answered Zimbabwe’s call in 2014 when the country was just three victories away from qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup held in England.

At that time Ross decided to soldier on in his pursuit of that elusive Springbok cap and most Zimbabweans thought he had made a wrong choice.

With his franchise the Golden Lions performing badly in Super Rugby, Ross was way down the pecking order of Springboks scrumhalves with the likes of Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Rudy Paige and Faf de Klerk being favoured.

However, the Lions have steadily evolved firstly when New Zealander John Mitchell was appointed coach in 2011 with his successor Johan Ackermann continuing with the same philosophy.

With the Lions now playing running rugby, the halfback pairing of Ross and Elton Jantjies has blossomed.

And on Saturday, after a long wait, Ross finally made his Bok debut and to put the icing on the cake, the 27-year-old capped it off with a five pointer.

It was not only an emotional day for the Cronje family but echoed in the hearts of Zimbabwe rugby that has seen a lot of talent slip away to other better organised unions.

Former Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president John Falkenberg, who was at helm when the country tried and failed to lure Ross to play for the Sables, was blunt.

“…another player we lose to SA, we unfortunately live in the professional era so we will lose such players to the big unions,” Falkenberg told the Daily News.

“It suites the big unions to draw on lesser ones and I feel  World Rugby must allow such players to return to their original unions once they have finished with their careers and allow them to play for their original unions. We are being bled by richer countries just a fact.

“The answer to all this is Zimbabwe needs to qualify for a World Cup; we missed out on the last one due to the coaches taking the wrong technical decision a night mare that still haunts me today.”

Guy played a blinder at flyhalf for Zimbabwe during the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers in Madagascar where the Sables came agonisingly close to their first qualification in 23 years.

Leading Kenya 24-10 a fourth try would have earned Zimbabwe a bonus point which would have put them beyond the reach of chasing Namibia who were scheduled to play latter in the day.

Many questions were raised why Guy decided to kick for posts when Zimbabwe were awarded a penalty deep into Kenyan territory and had an opportunity for a five pointer.

But many neutrals, who witnessed the match and understood its intensity, testified that this was a game that could have been won or lost on many fronts.

Former Sables coach Brendan Dawson, who was in charge of the side in Madagascar, would have wanted to have Ross in his line-up.

“I think he had an excellent game, he played really well, another Zimbabwean playing for Springbok,” Dawson said.

“Imagine if he did play for Zim he would not have played for Springboks, it was perhaps a blessing in disguise that he didn’t come (when he was called up to the Sables).

“It’s always going to continue to happen (losing players to other unions), we are amateur; we need to become professional. But I can tell you Ross is still very proud to be Zimbabwean.

“I talk to him and his brother often, they are all proud to be Zimbabwean. Their parents were also here a few weeks ago.”

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