Rugby Championship

Why Strauss may cling to captaincy

2016-08-29 14:28
Adriaan Strauss (Getty)

Cape Town - Adriaan Strauss is currently looking one of the most tenuous full-time Springbok captains of the post-isolation era.

But his saving grace, for the time being, may be the fact that few really attractive alternatives spring to mind.

The 30-year-old has led the country in five overwhelmingly disappointing Test matches so far this year, including a desperately narrow 2-1 series triumph over weakened Ireland, a late-surge home victory over Argentina and then Saturday’s galling, maiden reverse to the Pumas on their soil.

Any Bok skipper, in fairness, would be under pressure after such an unpalatable sequence by these supposed heavyweights of world rugby.

Strauss’s woes are amplified by his own decidedly ropey form; he would be on so much firmer ground - certainly in the public and punditry eye - if he was at least delivering impactful showings at hooker.

But the enduringly stuttering Bok performances have coincided with the Bloemfontein-born campaigner achieving precious little more in personal terms than do his “basics” largely correctly.

When the chips are down, a new-look, relatively inexperienced side needs its leader to do so from the front in general play. Instead he has been disappointingly AWOL in that regard, including providing little supportive gusto at breakdowns - an area the Boks are looking particularly unconvincing at - or in ball-in-hand terms.

Strauss is capable of better … we know that, based on combined evidence from 59 Tests stretching back to 2008.

But he is in the untimely midst, by my book, of feasibly his worst sequence of form throughout that time, so he is seriously endangered (or should be) on two fronts at Springbok level at present.

Just in playing terms, all of the next-in-line squad hookers, Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx, and the inexplicably “forgotten”, France-based hard man Bismarck du Plessis, cry out for opportunities in his place.

A personal view is that the combative, street-wise qualities of Du Plessis, who also happens to be a precious slowing and stealing force over the ball at the breakdowns, are being missed more seriously than people realise.

If the Boks played the imperious All Blacks tomorrow, and the Battleship Bismarck was (unexpectedly, sadly?) returned to service, he would automatically become one of very few “fear factor” players in the Bok ranks to the New Zealanders, such is his proven aura in red-letter fixtures.

But if Strauss is to cling to the captaincy - remember, Allister Coetzee has extended his tenure to the end of the year, although things can change on various fronts if a crisis deepens - his salvation could lie quite strongly in a dearth of genuine alternatives.

A pro-Lions lobby may swiftly boom out in protest: what about Warren Whiteley, then?

But in his case, I would suggest we still await a properly commanding international performance by the Lions skipper after eight caps (admittedly only three as a starter thus far).

Like several other relatively “new” Boks of late, he has not yet emphatically gone above middling in playing terms.

Whiteley may need to prove in the coming weeks, especially when the Boks play the Wallabies and All Blacks away, that he thoroughly warrants the green-and-gold No 8 jersey before any Test leadership possibilities enter the radar.

And who else has “Bok captaincy” stamped all over him at this juncture, in a team that generally has too much of a rabbit-in-the-headlights look?

Toulon-based senior figure Duane Vermeulen is sidelined by a knee injury, and another veteran with ongoing leadership appeal, Schalk Burger (Saracens) is unavailable at present for Bok duty; admittedly both being contracted to foreign clubs counts against them for the SA captaincy anyway.

Bath’s Francois Louw, like Strauss, is simply not playing to normal expected standards himself and presumably in grave danger of an imminent axe from the open-side flank role.

First-choice Bok tighthead prop and Stormers co-captain Frans Malherbe is another laid low for the remainder of the Championship, at least, by a neck injury.

Long-serving Bryan Habana is the Bok vice-captain - an appointment that began at Nelspruit two games ago - but that is probably more in a capacity as guiding hand for the backline; it is seldom considered ideal to have a wing as skipper.

It is for all these reasons, more than anything else, that Strauss - warts and all - may stay at his post for the foreseeable future.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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