Adriaan Strauss Not to Blame for Springbok Failure

A common question raised by many fans and commentators in South African Rugby – “is Adriaan Strauss a bad Springbok?”

If you hear some pundits and many of the Boks followers, it’s commonly claimed that Strauss is one of the worst players within Allister Coetzees’ setup. Statements made are that “he doesn’t tackle”, “Malcolm Marx brings more options to the front row”and “Strauss doesn’t make an effort”. Many others are formed in the media, public opinion and worse; that you frequently hear, read and see with your own eyes, some would think he has been as divisive as the unpopular quota system has been.

The critics go on, stating that Adriaan Strauss is not worthy to be included in the Springbok squad. That he lacks the qualities to be a good captain–here is one example of dozens/hundreds of the same type of comments goo.gl/c06wqP. These say he lacks flare and other forceful qualities to step in as an International first-rower. Looking at these, Last Word On Rugby considers ‘are all these criticisms fair and true?’

The Storm, and Strauss tackling it

In reality: the Springboks had an awful time during The Rugby Championship 2016. With negative point average (-117), just two wins in six games and the heaviest defeat ever against the All Blacks 15-57. From there, more criticism arose, with angry words against the squad, national coach and the South African Rugby Union (SARU) for its policy decisions [the quota system and current investments].

At the center of this massive storm, sits Adriaan Strauss, the Springboks captain. It’s normal to hear that Strauss was one of the culprits, as he didn’t guide the team well enough. That he doesn’t have the requirement’s to be captain, or he lacks the mentality to be one of the great Springbok leaders.

To mount a decent case, LWOR looks at Adriaan Strauss’s past, to understand why he was chosen to be the Boks’ captain. When he played for the Free State Cheetahs (2007-2014) he was named captain, and was one of the most important players in his seven seasons as a Cheetah. In a familiar change within South African rugby, Strauss left the Free State to become the Blue Bulls hooker in 2014. After just one season he was picked as the new captain for the Bulls team.

Elevation to Captain status

Strauss was always destined to be captain, or at least, one of the team leaders– in 2012-2013 the hooker shared the Springboks vice-captaincy role with Jannie Du Plessis. Why? Because he always worked harder than his colleagues, becoming a prime example of what a professional rugby player is. While he did get suspended in 2014 for a tip-tackle, the rugby public knew he was always there for his team-mates, as well as fans.

Strauss
Adriaan Strauss of South Africa breaks through to score his team’s fourth try during the 2015 Rugby World Cup (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

So in a young 2016 squad (the oldest players being Morne Steyn, Bryan Habana, Francois Louw, Mvovo, Tendai Mtawarira and Warren Whiteley), Strauss was the obvious pick for Coetzee. And think about this… Strauss knew he would land within a mine-field because the Springboks were going through deep change. That was due to selection-based policy, as the newly initiated quota system gained full-backing from the SARU board.

It became a scenario of ‘war and chaos’ for the new-look Springbok team, and a hard mission for any new International rugby captain. This leads to a second question for LWOR readers; ‘Did Strauss really play and captain that poorly in The Rugby Championship?’

Stats and Strauss: how good/bad was it?

Let’s take a quick look at Strauss’ stats:

  • 100 meters gained in 32 carries (an average of 3 meters per carry)
  • 26 tackles and 4 more missed-tackles, completing 5 turnovers (two in the second game against the Wallabies)
  • 59 line-out throws, with 99% success rate (57 landed on Springboks players hands)
  • a 97% winning rate on the scrum (37 scrums for Springboks, losing only three in the entire competition).

So an overall good statistical package for the hooker. If you want to make an comparison with his colleagues from the Wallabies or Pumas, Strauss surpassed each of them in almost every chapter [Creevy ran more meters but had more carries].

Can the numbers and stats lie to us?

If you have time to watch the South Africa games in-depth, he wasn’t that bad as an individual player. Adriaan Strauss is always down there on the ruck, he tries honestly to win meters. Strauss always completed his mission within the scrum and line-out. He takes his role seriously, to push forward and clearly as a player he made a serious commitment to the team.

Now look at Dylan Hartley, captain and hooker of the new look England side of Eddie Jones (currently on a superb winning streak). True, with Hartley you see exactly the same type of player, with an almost 100% success rate in the line-outs/scrums, and similarly a hard worker. His introduction coincided with a strong period in England rugby.

Hartley won praise from almost everyone, even those who disliked him (Hartley has a suspension record of 54 weeks total in his career), but Jones selected him above Chris Robshaw and gave a second chance to him. It has improved his

The problem for Adriaan Strauss is that his team doesn’t consistently win their games. That single argument clouds fans judgement and makes everyone forget the good and hard work he has done on the field. A poor record will do that, it will make an anti-hero out of a good guy. And that leads to a third question; ‘was Strauss suited for the job as captain?’

The Springboks Panic Era

This opens a never-ending discussion on this subject–Strauss did the very best he could do. He tried to drive forward, asking more from his teammates but the issues around the Springboks made the air un-breathable. It was panic ridden, and overwhelmed by issues.

What kind of issues? The selection-base subject; the redefinition of the starting XV (not having a strong fly-half or lacking Jaco Kriel on the field) were some of the major problems. This side lost the ability to win tough matches, without having a strong team dynamic.

Everyone will be talking about that last record-defeat in Durban against their prime rivals, the All Blacks. Unfortunately, no one will recall the first 35 minutes of the game, when the Springboks applied a more cynical, cold and cruel way to play the game (like the Boks of old). Certainly, they appeared to make life very hard for the three time World Champions.

That the rest of the match fell way below any standard of classic South African rugby is the disappointment. It exhibited a Springboks panic era, where they reacted poorly–and a record loss is the worst reaction possible.

Could he have done better?

Yes, yes he could, but who couldn’t? Even Warren Whiteley, the man who many want as captain, got in a catatonic state and didn’t perform as most expected. Allowing the All Blacks to do whatever they wanted to, it reflects badly on Strauss.

Or, as Duane Vermeulen; who wasn’t selected for this Championship due to an knee injury, said that the SARU is facing many hardships and political interference. Thus, in just 24 hours you could read, hear and see people almost up-voting Vermeulen to be the captain, because he came forth and told the ‘truth’…so in reality now, there’s a bit of a panic situation on who to pick for the captaincy.

Strauss retires from International Rugby

When the announcement was made that Strauss decided to retire from International rugby, many thought it premature. In his first tenure as captain, some thought he could blossom in the role. Like Hartley, it could be the best thing for him but Adriaan made the personal decision.

By the time of the Durban test match (see picture) Strauss was giving all that he could. Fans all want a Dane Coles on the squad, you want the star performer but they are different kind of player. For the type of gameplay and strategy South Africa has to play to win games and Championships, Strauss is the man they should emulate for the future.

As it goes, the saying that  ‘Adriaan Strauss is not the a true Springbok, not a leader or a good captain’ is untrue. His value is credible, and Strauss added plenty to the jersey–which is what any player wants.

Adriaan Strauss Not to Blame for Springbok Failure

It’s quite sad how he’s leaving test rugby now, as he deserved more for what he tried to do in the ‘revolutionary era’ of the Springboks. He is, and was always worthy of wearing the Green and Gold of an Springbok.

Strauss was never to blame for Springbok failure and he should be respected for his contribution to the modern game. An honest player and leader, and not to blame in any way, shape or order for this current phase in South African rugby.

 

“Main photo credit”

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