“Right, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at eight. I’ll be waiting in a golden Mercedes Benz,” It is somewhere in 1996 and we drive up the ramp at the pavilion shopping centre, searching. It is not difficult to spot the Benz at this hour of the morning. Most Durban shoppers are still having their bacon and eggs.
Just as well he told us to look out for Benz. Otherwise I would have walked right past the driver. Peter Cronjé, the mercurial Springbok centre of the 70s. Cronjé has discarded his trademark sideburns of the 70s, the years have left a mature mark on the face we Transvalers haven’t seen around Ellis Park for about 20 years.
I would have walked right past him, if it wasn’t for that Benz. We drive throught some of the Thousand Hills, past Maritzburg on our way to Michaelhouse, probably then the poshest private school in the country.
Thirteen year old David is to play a game which made his father a household game amongst rugby loving South Africans. As we weave through the mountains the memories of a young Cronjé flash past me, just as he swerved past opponents. The strong, tall figure of Cronjé steps of his left foot, splits the defence with the precision of a surgeon, and links up with his wingers, either Syd Nomis or Gert Muller.
Then a few minutes later he accelerates through the outside gap, races to the tryline and scores with ease, a brilliant solo effort. We have seen it so many times. It is imprinted on one’s mind. Sadly the flair of such a natural athlete has been misding from the game for years now.
It is a chilly morning at Michaelhouse. We take a seat on a bench overlooking at least six rugby fields. “We don’t see a centre take on his man and beat him on the outside any more,” says Cronjé, a past master of this maneuver.”
“The players of today get drilled into a definite pattern and their natural abilities don’t develop.” “The backline play has recently been very dissapointing. Since Danie’s (Gerber) there has been a definite decline in this department.”
“I would never have played the way today’s players do. If it was asked of me to set up second phase posession time and time again, I would rather have quit the game,” says Peter who retired at a relative young age of 28 after four serious shoulder ops.
Memories are indeed all Cronjé has of the game. The former Parktown Boys pupil was only 20 years old when he was first selected to represent Transvaal and a year older when he played for the Boks.
*Cronjé, who passed away last year, would have celebrated his bithday today.