Alasdair Strokosch fits right in as squad get to see real island life
THERE are two sides to Fiji, so distinct that they should be separated by oceans rather than the width of a wall, as occasionally happens.
Tourists fly into Nadi and are sped off to their holiday destination – usually on one of the small islands that make up this disparate nation. Luxury accommodation with Western standards and Western prices.
But, for the majority of the population, the infrastructure is held together by hope and prayer. Feral dogs roam the streets of Nadi and, for every Toyota Landcruiser that powers past, there are umpteen clapped out jalopies stuttering down the streets belching clouds of black smoke. Holidaymakers, vital to the economy, rarely stray beyond their resorts, most Fijians rarely see inside one.
But, thankfully, the spirit of adventure lurks within the Scotland team, who have seen parts of the host nation that remain hidden from most visitors. The squad, minus a few players recovering from a stomach bug, braved a monsoon that would have made any attempt to train impossible to visit the village of Nawaka.
There was a formal greeting from the village chief, with the ritual drinking of Kava, a drink made by crushing the roots of the plant with the same name. This ceremony took place in a respectful silence, at least until a mobile phone went off, breaking the spell and the ice.
There followed an impressive song and dance display from the hosts with the visitors responding in kind. If there is one Scot who looks at home in Fiji it is surely Alasdair Strokosch. He sports a suitably impressive Fijian physique, he shares their love of tattoos and, like many islanders, is reluctant to give too much of himself away to a casual acquaintance.
And, when exuberant Fijian ladies cajoled the Scots into dancing, Strokosch clung to the wall like ivy. “Life in Fiji is very different,” said the flanker. “Everyone is so friendly and happy all the time. It isn’t the most developed place in the world but everyone we’ve come across seems more than happy to see us, smiling and friendly. I think its something we could probably learn from.”
If “Stroker” shunned the dance floor, he is a natural on the field. After Scotland picked up the Hopetoun Cup by beating Australia, the players went through a small presentation ceremony of their own in the dressing-room.
Jon Welsh, who had won the “Cookie Cup” (named after the team bagman) in the final Six Nations game in Italy handed on the glass trophy to Strokosch who, the prop deemed, had made the biggest contribution to Scotland’s famous victory. In the Six Nations, it was a case of Scotland not missing Strokosch until he was gone. He fractured a bone in his hand halfway through the game against Wales and, in the absence of his no-nonsense physicality, the Scottish breakaways failed to impose themselves.
Now Strokosch is back in harness with impressive results – but for how long? Does his move from Gloucester to Perpignan suggest one step further away from Scotland and the national squad?
“Definitely not”, is the response that comes with a look that does not encourage argument. “Look at the French league. There are quality players in every team. It is the strongest league you are going to play in and that’s the reason I did it.
“I spoke to Wagga [Nathan Hines previously played at Perpignan] a couple of times. They obviously won the championship in 2009 with an experienced squad that was getting older. So there are quite a lot of players going out and quite a lot coming in. They are trying to rebuild the squad. I’m 29 and most of the guys coming in are around about that age.”
While acknowledging the natural skills of Saturday’s opposition, Strokosch argues that Scotland have a little too much organisation, structure and consistency for the Fijians to handle. Moreover, the mood in the squad is obviously upbeat following the unexpected defeat of the Wallabies, although, according to the flanker, it all started back at home.
“I think it probably felt a bit different from the day we met up on this tour. New voices, new faces, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was but it’s been more enjoyable than a lot of stuff has been. Just a good feeling, a lot of younger guys coming through, they’ve got a lot of talent and they are pushing the more experienced guys.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east