While injuries to Rory Best and Jerry Flannery see 23-year-old Cronin packing down alongside Cian Healy and John Hayes, Cronin is adamant the regular game time he has enjoyed in the Magners League and Amlin Challenge Cup this season with Connacht is what got him noticed in the first place.
"I moved up there to try and get some game time because I was behind the likes of Jerry Flannery and Frankie Sheehan when I was at Munster, so I wasn't getting much game time or exposure," said the two-time capped player.
"It's worked out very well. I've got a lot of game time up there and pushed my way in here. It's been a good move for me."
Israel Dagg, Benson Stanley and Ben Franks will make their New Zealand Test debuts.
Coach Peter de Villiers has sprung a surprise by including Ricky Januarie ahead of Ruan Pienaar in a full-strength South Africa team to face France on Saturday, while Wenceslas Lauret will make his debut for France at Newlands, Cape Town.
New Zealand: I Dagg (Highlanders); C Jane (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), B Stanley (Blues), J Rokocoko (Blues); D Carter (Crusaders), J Cowan (Highlanders); B Franks (Crusaders), K Mealamu (Blues), O Franks (Crusaders), B Thorn (Crusaders), A Boric (Blues), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), K Read (Crusaders). Subs: A de Malmanche (Chiefs), N Tialata (Hurricanes), S Whitelock (Crusaders), V Vito (Hurricanes), P Weepu (Hurricanes), A Cruden (Hurricanes), Z Guildford (Crusaders).
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), S Cronin (Connacht), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), J Muldoon (Connacht), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Subs: J Fogarty (Leinster), T Buckley (Munster), D Tuohy (Ulster), S Jennings (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester).
South Africa: Z Kirchner (Bulls); G Aplon (Stormers), J Fourie (Stormers), W Olivier (Bulls), B Habana (Stormers); M Steyn (Bulls), R Januarie (Stormers); G Steenkamp (Bulls), J Smit (Sharks), BJ Botha (Ulster), D Rossouw (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), F Louw (Stormers), P Spies (Bulls). Subs: C Ralepelle (Bulls), J du Plessis (Sharks), F van der Merwe (Bulls), D Potgieter (Bulls), R Pienaar (Sharks), J de Jongh (Stormers), J de Villiers (Western Province).
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); V Clerc (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), M Mermoz (Perpignan), A Rougerie (Clermont); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); T Domingo (Clermont), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Racing-Metro), R Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), W Lauret (Biarritz), J Bonnaire (Clermont). Subs: G Guirado (Perpignan), JB Poux (Toulouse), J Pierre (Clermont), L Picamoles (Toulouse), D Yachvili (Biarritz), D Skrela (Toulouse), M Andreu (Castres).