Ross Cronje toured Europe with the Springboks at the end of 2014 without getting on to the field.
This time the Lions scrumhalf believes he is ready for international rugby as he is set to make his debut against France at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
For many South Africans, spoilt by the wonderful individual moments of brilliance from players like Joost van der Westhuizen, Fourie du Preez and Faf de Klerk, Cronje was a bit too “boring” as a scrumhalf.
But the 27-year-old has marked himself as a key cog in the impressive Lions machine with his slick service and excellent reading of the game.
Much like the best wicketkeepers in cricket, Cronje is often not noticed as a scrumhalf, which means he is probably serving the team well.
Born in Johannesburg but educated at Michaelhouse in the Natal Midlands, Cronje spent a couple of years with the Sharks but only played one Super Rugby match for them.
Like many members of the now dominant Lions team, he came to Ellis Park as something of a castaway.
And even at the Lions, he has had to spend time in De Klerk’s shadow, with Faf being a crowd favourite and seemingly epitomising the sort of attacking, dazzling style of rugby that has won over so many people around the country.
But this season Cronje has come to the fore as one of the Lions’ generals.
“It’s been an awesome journey and I feel very excited because I feel ready. Faf and I are great mates, he’s been very supportive and coach Ackers (Johan Ackermann) believes in rotation. I believe I took my opportunities this year and the coach has backed me, especially in the big games,” he said.
“I truly believed when I was 15 or 16 that I would play for the Springboks one day, it’s been a lifelong dream, but it’s the right time now. The Sharks were a great stepping stone, but the Lions is home and their game-plan suits my play better. It was a great decision to move.”
So what exactly will be Cronje’s modus operandi on his big day at Loftus Versfeld?
“I’m going to focus on my basics, get that down first – my passing, supporting the players on the inside and just making sure the guys look better around me.
“I enjoy playing what is in front of me, but always within the game-plan of the coach. I like to think I can bring calmness where I need to be,” Cronje said, while not mentioning his strong right-footed kicking game and tenacious defence.
Even though Cronje will be making his debut, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said he has already marked him out as one of the key decision-makers in the team.
“Faf was outstanding last year against Ireland, but Ross has other strong points. He also plays a leadership role. He’s very calm and works things well. He understands how to use field position in the game.
“A guy like Elton Jantjies likes to have the ball in his hands and Ross gets him good possession, he puts quick ball in his hands. Plus he’s a right-footed kicker to complement Elton and Andries Coetzee with their left feet.”