SPRINGBOK legend Bobby Skinstad reckons Josh Strauss can expect some “banter” if he plays against the land of his birth in a fortnight but stresses that no-one in South Africa will really begrudge the change of allegiance.
Glasgow Warriors back-rower Strauss officially becomes eligible for Scotland today on the three-year residency rule, although the Cape Town-born 28-year-old has been training with Vern Cotter’s squad since the start of June.
I know Josh quite well. That beard is a work of art, man! He doesn’t talk a lot but he has a real charismatic style of leadershipBobby Skinstad
Skinstad, who was a member of South Africa’s World Cup-winning squad in 2007, has been following Strauss’s progress at Glasgow and is in no doubt that Scotland have added a valuable asset.
“I’m sure there will be a bit of casual banter if Josh plays that game but nobody begrudges a guy going to make something of himself in another part of the world,” the 39-year-old former loose forward said about the prospect of Strauss playing for Scotland against South Africa in the Pool B crunch at St James’ Park. “Listen, we could pick a whole 23 of South Africans playing for other countries in this World Cup to play against the Boks. You’ve got another Strauss with Ireland [Richardt] and many more. It’s just how it is and no-one can begrudge the guys taking their opportunities.
“I know Josh quite well. That beard is a work of art, man!
“He played for the same Currie Cup team as me, the Golden Lions, coming through after me and he is a real character – a hard-working loose forward who brings real power. He doesn’t talk a lot but he has a real charismatic style of leadership and he is a great decision maker.”
Skinstad followed Strauss’s role in winning the Guinness Pro12, which is a competition in its Celtic League days the 42-times capped former superstar of South African rugby briefly graced himself over ten years ago, when he played for Newport Gwent Dragons before a spell of semi-retirement.
“I was absolutely delighted for Glasgow,” said Skinstad. “We get the Pro12 games shown here, and there is obviously a bit of interest with Josh Strauss and a few other South African guys playing in it, and the league has come a long way since my short time at Newport. I loved it in Wales, the people were great and it was fantastic to experience a bit of living and playing in the UK as we tend to be a bit of a closed shop in South Africa. But it was at a time in my life when I didn’t really want to be playing rugby anymore.”
Skinstad had a few years in London running his own sports management company and playing part time for Richmond before a remarkable Indian Summer to his career saw him return to South Africa in 2007 and play Super Rugby for the Sharks before being recalled to the Springboks for the Tri-Nations and then the World Cup squad. He captained the Boks in a pool game and made three other appearances off the bench as they went on to beat England in the final and become world champions for a second time.
South Africa, who start their tournament against Japan in Brighton this evening, have had a bit of a shaky preparation, losing all three of their Rugby Championship matches before avenging their shock home loss to Argentina with a win over the Pumas in Buenos Aires last month.
Skinstad is confident they will come good. “I personally think we have a good well-balanced squad,” he said. “There has been a bit of flak flying about there being too many older players, but I think you need a base of experience for a tournament like this and, hopefully, that will bring out the best in some of our potent younger players.
“As soon as they gel, and I think they will pretty quickly, then I think we will be in pretty good shape. In the game against the All Blacks [a 27-20 home defeat] and the second match against Argentina they started to show a lot of things I liked a lot.”
Skinstad is wary of the Samoan threat but his hunch is that it will be Scotland who join the Boks in the quarter-finals.
“I’m a little wary of commenting too much on Scotland because I think they have held quite a bit back in the warm-up games and were keeping their cards close to their chests,” he said. “I get the feeling they would have done things differently if the games actually meant something, so I take a lot of their preparation with a pinch of salt.
“It will be a huge game in Newcastle. There will obviously be a huge Scottish support and plenty of South Africans too. I think it could be one of the special games of this first stage of the tournament. A real humdinger.
“Scotland have a really strong pack, good lineout and scrum, and they also seem to have some good finishers now. That has cost them in the past against us, when they have competed well up front but not been able to punish us out wide.”
Skinstad’s first-ever taste of World Cup action came in the pool win over Scotland at Murrayfield in 1999 and he said: “The memories can begin to mesh together to be honest but I loved every World Cup I played. My first one has the regret of that extra-time loss to Australia in the semi-final, then obviously the last one I was part of the squad when we won it which was special.
“But in 2007 we had a bit of luck. Ireland and Scotland both lost games they maybe should have won and we ended up with Fiji and Argentina in the knockout games. Then England in the final, who improved a lot after we had smashed them in the group game, but they weren’t as strong as the team that had won the previous tournament.
“It is a privilege to play in a World Cup an unbelievable experience to win one but my biggest memories are just the atmosphere around the tournaments, meeting new people, cementing friendships off the field, that’s what it’s all about.”
One of those great friendships is with former Scotland winger Kenny Logan and Skinstad said: “Yes I’ll be hoping to catch up with Kenny before and after the Scotland game and, depending on how the quarter-finals pan out, I’m sure we’ll meet up again.
“Our families are very close and we love spending time with those guys. I’m sure I’ll be having a little wager with my old mate.”
It is 20 years since South Africa’s iconic World Cup win in 1995 and Skinstad revealed that it was a defining inspiration which fuelled his fine career.
“I was a student at Stelly [Stellenbosch University] and I remember working in a bar, saving up for tickets to go to that first game against Australia with my old man. We queued through the night for tickets and then the fairytale was under way. I went off travelling with a bunch of students for the rest of the tournament, living on bread and chips, and it was just unbelievable. Everything was fever pitch wherever you went and all the games were massive events.
“It was obviously a defining moment for the country and everything that happened in 1995 means that, even now 20 years on, World Cups have a very important place in the hearts of South Africans.”
• Bobby Skinstad is playing SuperBru’s Rugby World Cup Predictor game. To take on Bobby and other rugby legends, or set up your own private leagues, visit superbru.com