Strauss should engage well with refs

2016-05-31 13:25
Adriaan Strauss (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – There has perhaps been only one really notable on-field occasion at a high level of rugby when newly-appointed Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss’s speech and broader body language has strayed seriously beyond the calm and demure.

In a typically uncompromising clash between the Boks and Samoa at Loftus in June 2013, then rank-and-filer Strauss, the home team’s hooker, found himself victim of an alleged law-book breach described as “an act contrary to good sportsmanship”.

In less legalistic terms, Samoan fullback James So’oialo appeared for all money to squeeze his crown jewels in the mysterious netherworld of a ruck.

Despite television evidence appearing pretty damning, So’oialo’s explanation that it had not been deliberate, and he had instead been meaning to grab Strauss’s shorts, was later accepted by the judicial officer and he wriggled off the citing hook to some howls of disbelief in South Africa.

At the time of the flashpoint, the aggrieved Bok player understandably reacted animatedly and instantaneously, throwing a retaliatory blow – which missed – and then angrily pursuing So’oialo who beat a hasty retreat back toward his distant position.

Television commentator Joel Stransky, tongue not too far from cheek, sagely mentioned the likelihood that Strauss, who also let rip with some less-than-flattering vocabulary at the apparent culprit, “might speak with a squeaky voice for a while”.

In truth, of course, the blond front-rower, on Monday awarded the national captaincy by Allister Coetzee for the home series against Ireland, is renowned for a less agonised, altogether calmer tone as a senior communicator in the field of combat.

Whatever his other, reasonably obvious merits, I believe that the Bulls skipper, now South Africa’s 57th, will prove a sound choice -- whether it is just in the short-term or for longer than that -- as much as anything for the manner in which he will engage with referees while at the international helm.

This is a more pivotal area nowadays than some are prepared to credit, given how subjective a variety of interpretations and decisions by the officials have become in the game, sometimes leading to captains becoming flustered or – more detrimentally in many instances -- losing their rags with the whistle-man and often only falling further foul of calls.




For that reason, it is vital to have a captain whose composure will remain on a steady line, and I have often felt in Super Rugby that Strauss is one of the South African skippers – both for the Bulls and previously the Cheetahs -- with the best feel for the necessary rapport.

Generally, he strikes the right balance between not being too passive in his engagement with the referee or becoming too “gobby” and dissenting.

Even seasoned, excellent leaders and standout Test players like Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger have occasionally fallen prey in the past to riling referees with their aghast objections to decisions, and finding that the approach does them no special favours.

This season, too, someone like stalwart Bok loosehead prop and acting Sharks captain for a while, Tendai Mtawarira, strayed damagingly from his normally quiet, unassuming nature to take objection to extreme levels.

After an incident-laden match against the Highlanders in Dunedin, pundit and former Bok coach Nick Mallett said of Mtawarira’s engagement with referee Ben O’Keeffe: “The way in which Beast approached the ref was completely incorrect.

“In one instance he actually said ‘It’s not fair; you’re just trying to even things up’. Which is in a way saying the ref is cheating and not officiating with objectivity.

“I want (South African) captains to handle officials better.”

At least in terms of Strauss’s elevation to the national captaincy, Mallett ought to see his prayers answered on that front, and the Boks not lose any expertise in an area the new skipper’s full-time predecessor, Jean de Villiers, also commanded with shrewdness, dollops  of humour and due diplomacy …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  adriaan strauss  |  rugby

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