Josh Strauss: Pro12 leaders Glasgow are big target

THEY may sit on top of the Guinness Pro12 table with an unblemished five-game record illuminated by a league best average of just over four tries per outing, but Josh Strauss has warned Glasgow that they will need to put together a complete 80-minute performance if they want to defeat Ulster tomorrow evening.

Josh Strauss won Glasgows McCrea Financial Services Player of the Month award. Picture: Jeff Holmes

During the two years of Gregor Townsend’s tenure as head coach at Scotstoun, Glasgow and their rivals from across the Irish Sea have a 50-50 record spanning six bone-jarring jousts.

Yet, should Glasgow prevail at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, it will mean they have won the past four meetings between the two teams and point to an increasing shift in regional power towards the west of Scotland.

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However Strauss, whose barnstorming back-row forays have helped him to claim Warriors’ McCrea Financial Services Player of the Month award for September, says Glasgow are still a long way from the finished article that will transform them to an exceptional side.

“I feel like we haven’t quite delivered an 80-minute performance yet and if we can do that then we can be an exceptional side,” said Strauss.

“It is great to be five and zero and be sitting top of the Guinness Pro12 but in the games there have been ups and downs, and the complete performance for a full match has eluded us.

“So that has to be the goal and if we can make it happen at Ulster tomorrow night that would be a huge plus because nothing but our best will do.

“The games with them have been really close over the last couple of campaigns and I believe we are three wins each, so you know that this is going to be another tough night, as it always is when you go to Ulster.”

Strauss cites the Ulstermen’s recent 30-0 mauling of Edinburgh as his reference point in suggesting that, coupled with Warriors’ exalted status as unbeaten league leaders, a warm welcome will await his side in Northern Ireland.

In addition, Neil Doak was unveiled as Ulster’s new head coach earlier this week, so the Belfast side will be determined to deliver a statement performance.

The straight-talking Strauss agrees: “Ulster are coming off a great win against Edinburgh and it is their home game, they have a new head coach in place and they will be very much up for it. So the fact that we are top and have a big fat target on our backs will make them even more determined to beat us.

“Obviously they are only five points behind us so they will be viewing this as a huge opportunity to do something about that. All of that just made a really hard game even tougher. In particular with Ulster you always know that up front it is going to be a battle and it will be vital that we man-up in the forwards but we are really looking forward to another big game of rugby.”

While revelling in his unbeaten three-game temporary tenure as Glasgow captain, Strauss is delighted to see Al Kellock back in the skipper’s role.

The 27-year-old said: “Obviously I really enjoyed the captaincy. I knew it was only going to be temporary until big Al [Kellock] returned but I loved the extra responsibility of being skipper and it is something that I enjoyed when I was with the Lions in the Super XV.

“Obviously your preparation is a bit different in the build-up and on the match-day, but I really enjoyed the extra responsibility and it was an honour for me that I am proud to have experienced.

“But we have so many great leaders in the side and Henry Pyrgos has also done a great job when he has skippered the side but it is great to have Al back and playing really well.

“He is an exceptional leader and we are lucky to have him.”

Modest to a fault, Strauss was keen to deflect the praise embodied by the first Player of the Month award, where he was selected by the Warriors’ faithful from a short-list nominated by head coach Townsend.

“Winning the McCrea Financial Services Player of the Month award for September was great for me because I got the award after a particularly hard day of training and it did put a smile on my face and gave me a welcome lift,” admitted Strauss.

“The big thing about this award is that the fans voted for it and that really means something.

“But I wouldn’t have won it if the team hadn’t made such a great start to the season so I owe the guys a vote of thanks too, I guess.”

Meanwhile, long-standing sponsor McCrea Financial Services have extended their six-year sponsorship of Glasgow by a further 12 months.

Managing director Douglas McCrea said: “We are really proud to be Glasgow Warriors’ longest-standing sponsor. Last season was a dramatic and exciting journey for Gregor and the boys and we hope to be with them for another one as this campaign unfolds.”