THERE is a feeling that players like to dye their hair blond because it makes their good work on the field more noticeable, but there is nothing false about the hooker who twice exploded through the Scotland ranks at Murrayfield last year.
In the two previous meetings between the nations, the Springboks ran up a 21-3 lead at Murrayfield and then held on against a stirring Scottish fightback in the second half, while the Scots roared into a 17-6 advantage in Nelspruit in the summer but lacked the ability of their hosts to hold on in the final quarter.
A key difference, however, was the blond-locked South African Adriaan Strauss. It was his skill in finishing off the try that pushed the Boks into a first-half lead and his second score shortly after the interval that provided the vital cushion for the Boks to claim a 21-10 win. He could have had any colour of hair and his try-scoring exploits would have been noticed, but the fact he resembles a bull in shape, his face turns an angry colour of puce when he’s on the run and the hair takes on a mind of its own, ensured those scores were etched into Murrayfield folklore.
And it started something as, after those first Test tries, he has gone on to score three so far this year, against Italy, Argentina and Australia.
“It is a special memory,” he acknowledged yesterday, looking ahead to his return to the Scottish stadium, “but this is a new game and a new day. That was the luck of the draw and I don’t know if that is going to happen again, but it is definitely a special moment and memory for me.
“Scotland is a very tough team to play against and those tries were important for us. They are a very passionate side and last year we saw that as they came out hard in the first minutes, and the rucks are always particularly difficult against them.
“It wasn’t a surprise [to fall behind] in Nelspruit because we knew that that was going to be tough as well. They took an early lead but we had a good day in the end because we luckily pulled it through in the last 20 minutes.
“They are very physical, at the breakdown especially, and technically they are very good and so are able to spoil your ball, and get good clean ball for themselves, and that makes it tough for us.”
Strauss practised lineout throws in strong winds at Lasswade this week, and was thankful to find the wind had less influence inside the Murrayfield bowl yesterday. But he knows the lineout and scrum will be central to Sunday’s outcome, with Scotland highly-rated in the former and the latter viewed as a real Springbok weapon.
The South African front row struggled in the scrum against Wales at times last week, a soft surface making it difficult for the players to keep their footing before replacement Coenie Oosthuizen and Wales’ Gethin Jenkins were shown yellow cards. Murrayfield’s turf is recovering from a worm infestation, made worse by a deluge of rain that made the surface hugely pervious to studs, and Strauss may face similar problems.
But, explaining that the Boks pack began working on the new scrum law interpretation before it was officially introduced, the 27-year-old from Bloemfontein insists that South African front rowers’ love of a physical battle is coming back to the fore.
“It is an important part of our game, definitely, and I think the new law suits us quite well, but we work hard at it,” he said. “It’s like defence where you have to work at it every week and I think it’s as much mental as it is physical – you have to be up for it.
“With the old laws you could just get the hit and, when you dominate the hit, you could just stay there, even if you were not in the right position but now, with the hit neutralised, you need to keep working hard as a pack, staying close together, to dominate.
“It is a weapon that we can use but Scotland will definitely be up for it. They are playing at home and, as a pack of forwards, they’ll be up for this, so it will be very tough up front.”
Strauss will come up against one of Scotland’s strongest players in Ross Ford but, just as home props Moray Low and Alasdair Dickinson are being handed another chance to prove that they could be part of Scott Johnson’s and Vern Cotter’s future plans, so Strauss returns for Bismarck du Plessis hoping for a longer run in the side. He seemed to prove as much a year ago, and insists that he worries less now about persuading coaches of his ability and more about simply winning in a green jersey.
“The moment we get into the Bok camp we have the same vision and same goal, and that’s just to make the Boks win. I’m getting the start this week and, of course, I want to be in the starting position again but the priority is to win.”
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