Johannesburg - Former Lions captain and No 8 Josh Strauss has joined his Scotland coach Vern Cotter in refuting Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s contention that it was necessary to change all his team’s lineout calls for Saturday’s RWC 2015 Pool B clash at St James Park.
According to the supersport.com website, Strauss, along with teammate WP Nel, was part of one of Meyer’s first training camps when he took over as national coach in 2012. All the players were presented with manuals on aspects of the game that related to them, and Meyer said this week that he was fearful that both the exposure those players had to his way of playing, and their way around the Afrikaans language, would add to the Bok difficulties.
“Rugby is a fluid game and I would be very surprised if all these years later the Boks were working off the same manual,” said Cotter.
Strauss, sporting a beard that is getting ever bigger and which opposing flanker Schalk Burger has jokingly referred to as Scotland’s first line of defence, said there was no way he would have been able to memorise everything he’d read three and a half years ago.
“I don’t know what happened to those manuals. Didn’t we have to give them back? I really can’t recall what was in them. I tend to forget those sort of things a matter of a few days later, not retain them in my memory over several years,” he quipped.
Strauss though may be selling himself short. Meyer was right when he said that both Strauss and Nel are intelligent enough to have retained the information in their brains. Strauss may never have become a professional rugby player had he been accepted to study veterinary science at Onderstepoort after leaving school.
It is an elite field and you have to be in the top bracket among the matric results to even consider being a vet, so the fact that Strauss, according to a story he told me while he was still playing for the Lions, only just missed out on selection suggests he may have the brain matter to recall lineout calls – even 40 months later.
As for the Afrikaans aspect, Strauss reckons that will only help the Scots if he or WP can pick up the Boks making quick changes to plans while they are thinking on the hoof.
“However I don’t think that we would have enough time to make changes if that did happen,” said Strauss.
Indeed, Strauss is probably more concerned right now about how he is going to deliver what Scotland expect of him against his former countrymen, who he anticipates will bring a hyper-physical approach to their effort. He won’t be playing his normal position from the back of the scrum, but as a blindside flank.
As with all players playing for countries other than the ones they were born and reared in, Strauss would be excused if he felt confused when the anthems were played before kick-off. You’d imagine that while he will obviously want to sing Flower of Scotland with full gusto, he may also find himself mouthing the words of the South African anthem.
He denies though that there will be any confusion and he is not having to weigh up the emotional issues that his former Lions coach John Mitchell said he wrestled with when he first coached against his home country, New Zealand, as an assistant to England coach Clive Woodward.
“I don’t have any problem with playing against the Boks, it will just be another game, even though it is a big one we will be desperate to do well in,” he said.
“Of course, like every other South African boy, I wanted to play for the Boks when I was growing up. But when my provincial side was omitted from Super Rugby a few years ago, I was effectively out of contract. I had to decide whether to go to another South African union, or to come to Scotland. I chose to come to Scotland and I don’t regret it.
“Scotland has been good to me and I have enjoyed playing rugby here. When I first arrived it felt like rugby in this country was in a very different place to where it is now. When I coach kids now it feels like the popularity of the sport is really improving. Things are starting to happen, and people want to play rugby. I suppose it’s a bit like the number of Scottish kids who want to take up tennis after watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon.”
Strauss has passions away from rugby, one of them being music. He was a member of rock band in the Western Cape before he moved to Johannesburg, and he says that being in Scotland has given him an opportunity to expand his musical repertoire. He is a bass guitarist with a preference for punk rock and regularly participates in jamming sessions in Glasgow, where he now lives.
“I still enjoy my music, and play as much as I can, but obviously professional rugby prevents me from having dreamy thoughts about being a professional musician, there just isn’t time for that.”