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Huge Bok chance for Strauss

2012-08-19 10:39
Cape Town - There is more than a bit of irony in the fact that Cheetahs favourite Adriaan Strauss suddenly finds himself in a similar window of opportunity to the kind experienced earlier this year by Bismarck du Plessis, the now-injured first choice Springbok hooker.

For some time, up to and including last year’s World Cup, Du Plessis was largely - and undoubtedly controversially - confined to substitute duty in the position because of former coach Peter de Villiers’ decision to keep faith in John Smit, iconic, respected captain of the successful class of 2007 but a fading force in a playing capacity four years on.

Although the “Battleship Bismarck” did get some start-out opportunities in the period when Smit was employed at tighthead prop with limited success, many howls of protest went up in the later phase, including the 2011 global jamboree, when Du Plessis would mostly only get second-half game time off the bench to the chagrin of his large fan club.

So 2012 was always going to be the year when Smit’s once Sharks colleague finally nailed down his extended right to the international No 2 jersey: he has been a massive presence at both Super Rugby and Test level and one of few Bok players in a rebuilding side capable of genuinely earning the awe on paper of rival superpowers like New Zealand.

There is a certain cruelty, then, to the fact that Du Plessis has again been robbed of the chance of an extended (and this time probably unimpeded, selection-wise) run in the side, courtesy of his season-ending knee ligament mishap early in the Castle Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday.

The big, Bethlehem-born combatant had a hand over his face for much of the depressing buggy-ride back to the tunnel, no doubt a horrible combination as much of disappointment as pain.

His misfortune will now significantly delay his advance toward 50 caps; he remains four off the mark.

The influence customarily expected of Du Plessis was reflected in coach Heyneke Meyer’s words at the post-match press conference: “At the breakdown not getting the recycling we wanted to achieve was a (problem against the Pumas).

“We definitely missed Bismarck; not just in ball protection but if you look at the pack he’s also one of the more experienced at present and a leader there. He’s also renowned as a great ball-stealer.

“But we need more of a team effort at breakdown, to be more physical there. They were all over us at breakdown; probably didn’t roll away and we didn’t handle it on the day. We need to step up and be more clinical in that area.

“It is a huge blow, but Adriaan is a quality hooker and a good leader as well, so it’s nice to have him (available).”

Indeed, Strauss at the very least provided assurance, with his own busy and competent 76 minutes on the pitch, that the Du Plessis void is likely to be decently enough filled.

At 111kg and 1.84m, the Cheetahs skipper’s physical dimensions are not far behind those of the man he replaces, and at 26 years of age and with 13 prior Bok caps since his debut in 2008, the Boks are hardly fielding a rookie for the remainder of the Championship (and probably also the end-of-year-tour).

A few days ago Strauss probably considered with some ruefulness any chance that he might earn a long run in the No 2 shirt - rather than 16 - in the Springbok side, given the massive obstacle in the form of Du Plessis.

But that opportunity has come, and he should grasp it with both hands.

Despite Chiliboy Ralepelle also being on the crocked list at present, the Boks still have solid and varied enough back-up to Strauss for the next few months, with the similarly rugged Tiaan Liebenberg - back in good form for the Stormers this season -
likely to be the substitute hooker in Mendoza next Saturday (21:10 SA time) and Craig Burden added on Saturday night to the travelling party.

Burden, the understudy to Du Plessis at Mr Price Kings Park, completes a stirring journey that saw him start his first-class career much more familiar with a wing role, but transform into one of the most livewire hookers on the Currie Cup scene, in particular.

The 26-year-old Maritzburg College product, at around 100kg, is perhaps not the fiercest of scrummagers in the world, but his mobility gives the broad Bok pack resources a nice - and some would say necessary - balance in mobility and skill-factor.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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