Gregor Townsend’s plans to unleash new ‘Todd Blackadder’ against Zebre

JUDGING by the smile on the face of Glasgow’s new signing the move from the famous wine-producing region of Stellenbosch to a flat on wet and windy Byres Road has worked out well.

Josh Strauss has been acclaimed as the “new Todd Blackadder” by no less than his own coach, Warriors chief Gregor Townsend, who clearly hopes that the South African will 
make the kind of impact in Glasgow that the former All Blacks skipper did for Edinburgh.

Intriguingly, Blackadder was vying with Townsend for the South African’s signature, but lost out to the attractions of the Warriors. Really?

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Strauss confirmed: “I did have offers from the Chiefs and the Crusaders [where Blackadder is head coach], and a team in France.”

So, why Glasgow? “I spent a year in France when I was younger and I really enjoyed it there, and so I always planned on playing quite a bit of my 
career in Europe, so when the Glasgow offer came I saw it as a great opportunity. And they offered me a three-year contract, which gives you confidence, where the offers in France and at the Crusaders and Chiefs was just for a year.

“I had never met Gregor before but I knew him from being a youngster watching Six Nations and from being a coach with the Scotland team, and from his time with the Sharks.

“When he gave me a call I spoke to Butch James, the ex-Springbok fly-half who played with Gregor, and then Graham Lowe came to see me and now I’m here.” Strauss has joined Glasgow as a late replacement for the Tongan Viliami Ma’afu.

There were rumours that the Tongan had turned up in Glasgow with an injury which was not likely to shift any time soon. Glasgow deny that, insisting that he had personal issues that forced the club to agree to his 
release and swift return south.

Whatever the truth of it, there is no hiding Townsend’s belief that it has turned out well. A fan of South African rugby ever since he played for the Sharks in Durban, Townsend watched Strauss’ explosive performances for the Lions in last year’s 
Super 15 and so, when he needed a ball-carrying back row and Strauss’ name came up, his excitement grew.

Asked this week to sum up his new No 8, Townsend said: “A 
fantastic player and another leader, which is great. He has captained the Lions to Currie Cup success and played in Super rugby and, as I said when we announced the signing, I believe he’s up there with Todd Blackadder as one of the greatest signings in Scottish rugby because he’s in the prime of his career.”

Strauss starts tonight in a remodelled Warriors line-up showing 13 changes to that which defeated Connacht and claimed the first win of the new Scotstoun era.

With All Black Angus Macdonald on one side of the back row and one of the hottest young stars of Scottish rugby, Chris Fusaro, captaining the side for the first time on the other, there should be plenty to excite the Warriors fans tonight.

Strauss last played three weeks ago and expects it to take him time to get up to speed, but then he is something of a late developer. He came through the Boland rugby set-up, spent a month in France with the Toulon academy and returned for a year in the lower French ranks, before being picked up playing for the famous Stellenbosch University by the Golden Lions in Johannesburg. He was then 24 and, within a few months ,was the Lions captain, quickly becoming a cult figure known for his all-action style of play and an ever-growing beard. The beard is back and, while it will be shaved off on the instructions of fiancée Tami-Lee when he returns briefly to South Africa in December for his wedding, he feels he may need it in Scotland.

“I started shaving quite young and schools in South Africa you wear uniform and they are very strict – your sideburns have to be above half your ear level – and I got tired of it. So after school I had a bigger beard, and when I went for a trial at the Lions [in Jo’burg] my fiancée was in Cape Town so I didn’t see the need to shave really. The other No 8 and a lock made a bet with me to see if I could grow it to the end of the Currie Cup and then people started to give me nicknames like ‘The Caveman’, and it sort of stuck and I kept it. I have to shave it off for the wedding but I’ll probably grow it until then and after that I’ll see how cold I get in December.” Of course it will get cold in Glasgow, but the weather is not what attracted Glasgow’s new signing and there is fresh hope among the Warriors support that it may just get a little warmer from tonight when their new Caveman gets on the ball.