South African Josh Strauss tipped to be best-ever signing for Scottish team
GLASGOW have moved swiftly to replace departing Tongan back row Viliami Ma’afu with a South African who coach Gregor Townsend believes could be the biggest signing Glasgow has ever made.
Ma’afu was signed earlier this year and was still to make his debut for the Warriors but an issue arose with his family which forced him to negotiate a release from his contract.
Glasgow stated that he left with their best wishes and that the reason for his abrupt departure would remain confidential, and so there would be no further information. Ma’afu, who was signed by former Glasgow coach Sean Lineen, was not available for comment either. Coach Gregor Townsend swiftly denied that it had anything to do with injury or ability concerns, insisting that it was a private family matter.
Townsend was happier, however, to talk about the man coming in to replace him, 25-year-old Golden Lions captain Josh Strauss. The coach revealed that it became clear that Ma’afu would be leaving two weeks ago and efforts were begun then to find a top-quality and experienced replacement.
Graham Lowe, the SRU’s director of performance rugby, visited Strauss in South Africa last week and gave the deal the thumbs-up and Townsend compared his hopes for Strauss to the influence of Todd Blackadder, who was brought to Edinburgh by Jim Telfer to bring on such young Scottish back row talent as Simon Taylor, Ally Hogg and Alasdair Strokosch.
“It is excellent news for us and Scottish rugby to get someone of Josh’s calibre,” he said. “This could be the biggest signing in Scottish club history, equal or better to someone like Todd Blackadder, who changed the culture at Edinburgh and influenced the rest of Scottish rugby.
“In Josh we’re getting a captain of a Currie Cup-winning side, who is 25 years old and in the prime of his career. Technically, he has all the elements you’d want to see in a No 8. Ryan Wilson has been in excellent form these past 12 months and having that level of competition is great.
“Josh is here first and foremost to make an outstanding contribution on the field, but we also see him as someone who will be a very positive and inspirational influence for our young back-rowers as they make strides in the game.
“Todd was still a very good player when he came across but he was in the latter stages of his career, and where Josh is, and to have captained a Currie Cup side and Super rugby team, that can only be good for us. He comes across as an intelligent rugby player and can only add positives to what we have here already, and he’s really excited about coming here.”
Strauss follows another talented forward in Willem Nel, who some in South Africa believed was capable of pushing for Test honours. His path to a Springbok jersey was blocked by a number of world-class back rows, and, like Nel, he has signed a three-year contract that could make him eligible for Scotland were he to become a success.
There was no suggestion yesterday that he had been signed as what has become known a “project player”, brought in specifically to become Scottish, but Townsend did not rule out the possibility.
Strauss has captained the Golden Lions in the past two Currie Cup tournaments, and was voted the “Currie Cup Player of the Tournament” by the players last year. He also captained the Lions in last year’s Super XV.
He commented: “I’m really excited to have signed for Glasgow Warriors, and can’t wait to get on that plane and hit the ground running with my new club and team-mates.
“I’ve had a number of really positive conversations with Gregor Townsend, where he’s explained how ambitious the club are to move forward on and off the field. There are a lot of top players in the squad, especially in the back row, and I know I will have to fight hard to prove my worth and earn selection.
“I’m massively looking forward to arriving in Glasgow, seeing the facilities at Scotstoun Stadium for myself, and playing my part in helping the club achieve a successful season.”
His arrival cannot come too soon for a Glasgow back row which has lost Ma’afu and Rob Harley, and is still waiting for All Black Angus Macdonald to prove his fitness and worth. Harley suffered a knee ligament injury in last week’s final team run before the Scarlets match, and Townsend was tight-lipped yesterday on how long he may be out of action. “He is seeing another specialist on Thursday and we should know more then,” was all he would say, although he is clearly concerned by what tomorrow may bring.
Strauss will be registered in time for the Heineken Cup and the coach admitted that he was looking at the possibility of bringing in another new face before next week’s deadline for the European competition. He still expects Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu to arrive in Glasgow late next week, around the same time that Strauss pitches up.
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