Al Strokosch sights set on World Cup with Scotland

Al Strokosch's season ended in disappointment when his club, Perpignan, missed promotion. Picture: SNS
Al Strokosch's season ended in disappointment when his club, Perpignan, missed promotion. Picture: SNS
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AL Strokosch’s club season in France may have ended in disappointment, but now the back-row man is looking forward to linking up with his international colleagues again and competing for a Rugby World Cup place this summer.

The 32-year-old and his Perpignan team-mates were left stunned last month after they drew with Agen 32-32 in the French D2 promotion play-off semi-final, only to lose out because they had scored fewer tries.

Things are definitely going in the right direction for Scotland

Al Strokosch

Agen went up to the top flight – defeating Stade Montois 16-15 in the play-off final – and Strokosch was left to contemplate another season in the second tier.

For the moment, though, Strokosch’s thoughts are all about representing Scotland in a second World Cup during September and October in England and Wales.

The tough tackler from East Kilbride made his full Scotland debut in 2006, coming off the bench against Australia and, since then, he has gone on to earn 44 caps.

He missed out on the 2007 World Cup, but was there in New Zealand in 2011 and was involved in three matches, including the England clash.

But he has not started a match for nearly a year, with Rob Harley preferred in the No 6 jersey, and he appeared only once off the bench during the Six Nations.

With John Barclay and Ryan Wilson having been brought into head coach Vern Cotter’s 46-man extended squad, Josh Strauss soon eligible for Scotland and youngsters Hamish Watson and Hugh Blake knocking on the first-team door, the competition for back-row spots really is hotting up.

Competition, though, is something that the former Edinburgh and Gloucester man relishes, with the squad preparing to meet up next week.

Strokosch said: “A number of younger guys and newer faces have come into the squad and have started to compete for back-row spots in the last year or so and I have found it tricky to get a lot of game time.

“However, I have seen a lot of players of my age not being involved at all with Scotland as the head coach has looked to reshape things going forward.

“I have still been in and around the team and I hope my experience and style of play can bring something to the group.

“I made my Scotland debut back in 2006 and was then involved in the build-up to the 2007 World Cup, but did not make the final cut and, at the time, that was hard to take.

“On the flipside, it was great to be a part of things in New Zealand four years ago and the whole experience was something I will always remember because the whole of the country is just mad about the All Blacks and rugby.

“Hopefully, I can get my second taste of a World Cup later this year.”

Like many, Strokosch, who has played in France since 2011, is impressed by the pool of young talent coming through into the national team.

He has also been around long enough not to have got too carried away with the positive results last November and not too downhearted with the Six Nations losses.

He said: “Things are definitely going in the right direction for Scotland, but you are only ever as good as your last match and we were all disappointed not to put wins on the board in February and March.

“There is a lot of expectation on our shoulders, while, within the group, we set ourselves high standards and the experienced players like myself, Ross Ford, Al Dickinson and Sean Lamont aim to keep everyone focused on the job in hand.

“The youthful enthusiasm we have in the group is brilliant, though, and when that is mixed together with a lot of hard work, then it is quite exciting to think what could be achieved.”

In terms of life in France, Strokosch and his family are very settled there and his eldest child is almost fluent in French as they start school at the age of three.

He admits his French is, perhaps, not as good, but he can get by and is always learning.

Strokoschs is also studying for a university qualification in strength and conditioning via distance learning when his rugby and family commitments allow

“Rugby-wise at Perpignan we were relegated pretty late on in 2013/14. Our squad for the campaign just finished had to be assembled pretty quickly last summer and we had to try and gel instantly,” he said.

“That had its challenges, but I enjoy the rugby in France and the home supports are always very good, so it means you play most weeks with a great atmosphere around you.

“The lifestyle is good while I enjoy my studies and that will help me when I retire. For now, though, I’m very much focused on playing.”