Strauss scare for Bok coach

2012-10-20 12:00
Adriaan Strauss (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Right up to the closing minutes of the Currie Cup first leg promotion/relegation scrap between the Cheetahs and EP Kings in Bloemfontein, home captain Adriaan Strauss was only underlining in bright ink his Springbok pedigree.

The incumbent Bok hooker - in the continued absence of a rehabilitating Bismarck du Plessis - was a rampaging presence in a collectively fired-up Cheetahs pack as the established Premier Division outfit all but ensured their continued presence in the top flight with a sobering 53-14 grilling of the Super Rugby-bound pretenders from the Eastern Cape.

With Strauss always close to the core of things, scrummaging superiority was a key pillar of the eight-tries-to-two triumph - and this despite the visitors’ front row, armed with such beefy specimens as the former Bulls player Jaco Engels and the 130kg New Zealand-born journeyman Clint Newland, supposedly being one their core areas of significant first-class experience.

The blond No 2 also knocked the stuffing out of a mini-fightback by the mostly cowed underdogs pretty early in the second half, when he intercepted a loose pass and thundered some 50-60 metres for a well-deserved touchdown of his own in the rout.    

But then late on, another alarm bell would have rung in Springbok terms, for the fast-looming Northern Hemisphere tour, when Strauss went to ground awkwardly in a tackle and left the pitch with what appeared to be a tender knee.

He was immediately substituted by Hercu Liebenberg, although he did reappear on the podium for the obligatory after-match interviews, which might be interpreted as a good sign.

Inquiries by Sport24 to both the Cheetahs and Bok camps over Strauss’s condition on Saturday morning had not yet earned clarity at the time of writing.

No doubt national coach Heyneke Meyer, already knowing that first-choice captain Jean de Villiers is racing against time to recover from his hamstring strain for the three-match tour, will have been sweating for assurance that fellow-senior trooper Strauss is not significantly crocked.

In the absence of Sharks favourite Du Plessis, the Cheetahs representative has performed admirably for the Boks and, as a hooker of similar physicality to accompany known mobility virtues, will be a vital presence in Ireland and the United Kingdom both as a player and in leadership terms.

Other No2s in - or at least close to - the Springbok picture, like the fit-again Chiliboy Ralepelle and the Sharks’ Craig Burden, are more renowned for their run-around qualities than specific scrumming strength, and with somebody like Tiaan Liebenberg also out of the tour equation, there could be a shortage of bulkier men in the position for the heavy pitches of Europe if Strauss has any injury hassles on his hands.

It will require a miracle of rare proportions in the Port Elizabeth second leg now for the Kings to overturn the damage of the Free State Stadium - frankly, they looked every bit lower-tier material on the night and any SANZAR bosses watching would have winced over their Super Rugby competitiveness (if that is the right word?) prospects in 2013.

That said, it is possible the Kings “froze” to a good degree in Bloemfontein and did not do themselves best justice, so the return match is at the very least an opportunity to offer up greater hope for their taxing challenge at Super Rugby level.

They were without the services on Friday of their two top captains, Luke Watson and Darron Nell, and with recruitment initiatives only likely to gain in urgency after this near-fiasco, perhaps only around half of the current players on view will actually play Super Rugby next season?

Let’s not laugh off the Kings with indecent haste, even if the portents do look reasonably bleak a few months out...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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