Back-rower Josh Strauss has been enjoying catching up with old friends after what he admitted was a “surprise” recall to the Scotland squad but is also looking forward to catching up with a buddy in opposition ranks when Fiji come calling on Saturday.
Now at Sale Sharks, Strauss was part of the 2015 Glasgow Warriors side which won the Guinness Pro12, packing down alongside Fiji superstar Leone Nakarawa. And the South African-born Scotland cap wasn’t holding back in his assessment of the lock, who now plays for Racing 92.
“I’m not being biased because I like him but I would say he is probably one of the best rugby players I have ever played with or against. He’s just class,” said Strauss, who last featured for Scotland in the summer tour loss to Fiji last June.
“He’s just such a great guy around any club or organisation – he’s always happy, works really hard, never grumpy about anything – and I think that makes him just more special to the people who have played with him.
“But you don’t need me to tell you how good he is, and what a difference he can make to a team when he is on song. He stands up, sucks in three defenders and still gets the ball away – very few people, physically, are that blessed.
The 32-year-old Strauss, who is now hoping to add to his 17 caps this month after coming in for the injured Blade Thomson,continued: “He listens, he writes things down, he studies up on what we are doing. When he does something bad, he goes off and does his extras. I really think he just buys into it.
“It is all about buy-in. And Naks, just because of his personality, is the kind of guy who just buys into everything: ‘I’m there, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to be the best.’ And that’s what sets him apart. He’s just a lovely guy: no matter how hard you hit him he’s just laughing at you. Last time, after [Glasgow played Racing 92 in Europe] he’s hugging me and stuff. The great thing about rugby is the relationships you build up. I’ve been away for a year and a half and when you come back in it’s like you’ve never been away.”
There will be another Scottish flavour to the Fiji pack in the shape of Edinburgh No 8 Bill Mata, who has also impressed Strauss.
“In the English Premiership, whenever you play against a team with a Fijian they are the target men, which is a bit worrying when you are playing against 15 of them put together.
“It is one of those things, if you do what we want to do well as a team, you train well and buy into it, if you execute the things you put out for the weekend and do it in the right mind-set, then the game is there for the winning. They are a special team, I have seen a bit of Bill Mata and he is an exceptional player – a big guy as well – so, if he’s playing, he’s another one to watch.” Strauss had a poor game in that last appearance in Suva but said he had never given hope of a Test comeback and admits that Fiji present the perfect opposition to make some amends.
“I’m itching to have a crack at anyone at international level. If I’m involved that would be great,” he said. “My last game was there. We lost the game. I don’t think anyone who plays at the level we are playing got there because they accept losing. We are all very competitive. If I am involved, I really want to put one over them and get a really convincing win.
“When I get the phone call when I’m not in, I take it in my stride and just spend time with my family. This year I got the call to say I wasn’t involved in the summer tour and I got seven weeks off at Sale. That was great. I control the things I can playing for Sale, play as best I can. I don’t feel that old, so it wasn’t out of my mind.”
Strauss said that the return to an international squad environment represented a step-up in training but is delighted to be back. “It’s good, although it’s a bit of a surprise, really. I came in on Sunday night,” he explained. “It’s different in terms of intensity to what I’ve been used to in club rugby, but it’s been great to see the lads again – I have a good relationship with most of them. It’s been fun. I have no idea [why I was brought back], you’ll have to ask Gregor [Townsend, Scotland coach]. I played in the Prem Cup for Sale and I had a pretty good game against Saracens.
“You have to be confident in your own abilities. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t worry about things outside of my control, so I’m at my club and I’ve got to play well there.
“Whether or not I get picked is out of my control. There are elements you can control, and that’s training – rocking up and being on time. There’s a lot of new information, such a whole new calling sheet, which they’ve completely changed since I was last involved.
“I’ve tried not to worry about it and just try to be as good for Sale as possible. My mum always told me you can’t keep a good man down, so I just try and be as good as I can be.”