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
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
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
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 …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing