There aren’t many players in this Scotland squad who can boast a 100 per cent winning record in the Six Nations but Josh Strauss is a member of that exclusive fraternity – even if his contribution to date has amounted to no more than a few minutes off the bench in Rome.
As well as having that enviable record in this championship, Strauss is also unique in that tomorrow will mark his first ever international appearance at BT Murrayfield, having made his Test debut in the World Cup, and the burly South African appears suitably excited.
“I can’t wait to be out there on Sunday in front of a packed out BT Murrayfield. I have watched games there before and it’s such a great feeling I can’t wait to experience it.”
The extravagantly bearded breakaway was a surprise call up in Rome, having played almost a full game just two days previously for Glasgow against the Dragons, and he is preferred tomorrow over Ryan Wilson with David Denton, who started the opening two matches, still struggling with his groin injury.
“With the Six Nations being what it is and all these countries very big rivals, it just makes it that much bigger,” said Strauss when asked about Europe’s blue riband competition. “It’s been a very good experience. I was lucky enough to get a run two weeks ago against Italy and that was my first experience of it. It’s like the World Cup, just a step up [from the Pro12], very physical and I expect the same this weekend. It’s such a big thing for the countries in the Six Nations to win these games and they put so much emphasis on it so it’s very important for us as well.”
The recall of Strauss suggests that Vern Cotter is going to fight fire with fire. The South African is one of Scotland’s best ball carriers, very mobile for a big man. France are expected to come with a gameplan involving bullying the Scottish forwards and Strauss’ inclusion hints that the home team also expect to dish out some physical stuff.
With three highly competitive No 8s in the squad and Adam Ashe waiting in the wings, Strauss has a rare chance to put down a marker with his first Scotland start since the South African played against the land of his birth during the World Cup.
“I think it’s very important, the fact that I have been given an opportunity to start, the other players have been great so far,” he said. “Ryan [Wilson] had a great game against Italy. So to get the opportunity to start… I don’t want to take anything for granted.
“I have to prove that I deserve to be in the starting spot and that puts a little more pressure on yourself but that is why we play rugby, why we are all here. We have done it our whole lives and we relish it. To me it’s just to focus on my own game this weekend, obviously to focus on the goal of the whole team, to bring what I can bring to the team and get the best out of it.”
The South African is an eloquent character, in his second language, too, and he talked at length about what he had learned since arriving in this Scotland squad, especially the need, drummed into everyone by coach Cotter, to back up one good action with another and follow one good win against Italy with the same again tomorrow afternoon.
Having drafted Strauss into the middle of the Scotland back row Cotter will start a different No 8 for the third successive match, while sticking with his tactic of fielding two classic “fetchers” in Johns, Hardie and Barclay.
A traditionally shaped blindside flanker is usually a major carrier of the ball in the professional game so, without a bulky six to share the heavy lifting, does that put even more emphasis on Strauss to punch holes in the French defence?
“Both Johns [Hardie and Barclay] are great ball carriers in their own ways,” replies Strauss. “Even though they are out-and-out sevens they are good at carrying the ball, they are good at finishing, both of them finished at the weekend, I don’t think there is too much of a concern this weekend. I have played with both of them. I played a year with John Barclay and he’s a great ball carrier so I am not too worried about it. Hopefully they’ll steal me some ball and get me on it.”
And is Strauss optimistic about maintaining that unique 100 per cent winning record in the Six Nations at the final whistle tomorrow?
“All the pieces are there,” growls the South African, “it’s just up to us to put the whole thing together.”