Boks: Unlucky axe for Strauss?

2015-09-29 10:00
Adriaan Strauss (Gallo Images)

Newcastle – It is one of their healthier problems at a time when broader medical issues are annoyingly afflicting the squad again, but the hooker berth has an invitingly fluid look about it for the Springboks at the World Cup here this week.

The battle for the No 2 jersey is marked by one encouraging characteristic: all three customers in the position – Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Brits – are seemingly available for ongoing duty, and that is not something that can be said of too many other departments en masse after the vibrant but bruising 46-6 triumph over Samoa.

Common sense suggests that on Wednesday evening the Boks will resist wholesale changes for Saturday’s Scotland challenge at St James’ Park (17:45 SA time) ... if they possibly can.

But their training and tactical plans have already been disrupted early in the week by an injury cloud over several players, including in-form senior personnel like Victor Matfield, probably earmarked as stand-in captain now, and Fourie du Preez.

At least when it comes to hooker, coach Heyneke Meyer should have his Full Monty of selection options, and which way he goes there for the Scottish task is pretty much anybody’s guess.

He has seldom been shy to “rotate” his premier pair (Du Plessis and Strauss) if he has felt that approach necessary, although the former appeared to fall more conventionally into “dropped” status following the shock 34-32 loss to Japan; he slipped right out of the match-day squad for Samoa after conceding several costly penalties in Brighton.

While the Battleship Bismarck unusually sat in the stands, doubtless rueing missing the kind of physical clash he is tailor-made for, Strauss produced a thoroughly polished, professional display as starting hooker against Samoa – a fitting celebration of his 50th Test cap.

He manned up from a confrontational point of view, even if that is supposed to be the key forte of his chief rival for the berth, and did his basics – including the precious area of lineout throwing-in – almost unfailingly well.

Strauss was also driving the ball up with increasing regularity and bustle shortly before Meyer summoned the fast, fresh legs of Brits off the bench in the 68th minute and he put in a pleasing mini-shift as well.

Any neutral watching the Villa Park game would have been justified in fancying the Boks wouldn’t be shuffling their cards at hooker any time soon.

But South Africans know it is not as straightforward as that, for in the brawny, in-your-face unit of Du Plessis the Boks still boast one of the most genuinely “big” personalities of front-five play and a player who thrives on premier, pressure-cooker occasions.

That was acknowledged on these very shores pre-tournament: I have seen Du Plessis singled out at least twice in RWC-based magazines or newspaper tournament supplements for the mantle of “key player” or “star performer” in their study of the Bok squad and their chances.

“Firmly recognised as the world’s most combative hooker ... a snarling menace,” read just one.

Strauss or Du Plessis to front up to the Scots?

Frankly, it could be either, and the Boks will lose nothing either way.

And at least it’s a pleasant predicament amidst a sea of other uncertainties.

But if he drops from the starting XV this weekend, Strauss can also consider himself a bit unlucky ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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