Tiring No 2s in Cheetahs’ match

    2013-07-18 14:00
    Adriaan Strauss and Stephen Moore (Getty)

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – They are two of the most durable hookers in Super Rugby and often enough at international level too ... and now Springbok Adriaan Strauss and Wallaby stalwart Stephen Moore go head to head in the finals series of the competition on Sunday (08:10 SA time).

    Who has more left in the tank after an exhausting first few months of the current southern hemisphere season?

    The answer may become apparent – and possibly even play a role in the outcome – when the underdog Cheetahs, led out as usual by the trademark blond figure of Strauss, lock horns at Canberra Stadium with the Brumbies team of which Moore is vice-captain to Ben Mowen.

    Both are core characters in their respective teams, not just as individual players but as inspirers of younger personnel given their beefy top-flight experience.

    They have had particularly hard-pressed seasons up to now, especially as both have been first choices for their countries – busily employed during the recent Test window period -- and desperately keen to keep things that way as they face stern challenges from fast-recovering, quality rivals for their international berths in the shape of Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks and South Africa) and Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs and Australia).

    The hefty Polota-Nau had been tipped to be the Wallaby first choice for the blue-chip series against the British and Irish Lions, but then broke an arm in mid-May during a conference derby coincidentally against Moore’s Brumbies outfit.

    That freed up the latter to start every match of the enthralling series, eventually won 2-1 by the Lions, as he swelled his Aussie caps to 79 (the hooker’s record for the country).

    The 30-year-old Moore gave his all to the gallant losing cause, reportedly playing every minute of the series barring a short stint in the blood-bin once.

    But the Saudi Arabian-born player must be nursing at least some physical and mental fatigue after that series, especially as the Lions tended to have the key upper hand at scrum time and Moore was smack in the middle of the retreating home eight.

    He did start the Brumbies’ surprise, damaging 21-15 reverse to the Force in Perth last weekend – it put paid to any hopes of a top-two overall finish for Jake White’s charges – but was wisely hauled off at half-time: the visitors already trailed 14-3 then so their hopes of a bonus-point victory had pretty much gone out of the window and White wisely decided to cocoon certain troops from that point on for their first game of the finals series.

    This week Moore struck an understandably combative, defiant note ahead of his showdown with the consistently in-form Strauss, suggesting in the Australian media: “Mentally I feel better this week than last ... I feel fresh now.”

    But just how rejuvenated remains to be seen; Strauss at least had the minor benefit, despite the inconvenience of the Cheetahs’ long-haul travel to Canberra, of a welcome bye in the last weekend of conference play when they gratefully banked a closing haul of four “free” log points.

    Nevertheless, he has been just as much of a Duracell Bunny since February or thereabouts, considering that he is a virtual ever-present on the field for the Free Staters and played at least the first three-quarters of each of the Boks’ June Tests against Italy, Scotland and Samoa respectively.

    Recuperating Sharks powerhouse Du Plessis did get relatively short stints off the bench in the latter two matches, although he probably has a way to go before he can convince all critics that he is ready to match or eclipse Strauss’s energy and commitment once more.

    Not without reason, after all, did one local rugby-specialist website earlier this week suggest that the 27-year-old, who has given some seven years of yeoman service to the Bloemfontein-based franchise’s cause, was a firm candidate for SA Super Rugby player of the season after the end of the conference phase, noting that he was “the heartbeat of everything in the Cheetahs squad”.

    Can the rugby hearts of significantly over-used Moore and Strauss keep beating to customary, optimum capacity during the Super Rugby finals series?

    I wouldn’t bet against it, in either case.

    Both front-rowers are renowned for spirit coming reliably to the fore, even when bodies may be protesting just a tad ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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