Sport24 chats to Tiaan Strauss

Cape Town - The former dual international, Tiaan Strauss, who represented both the Springboks and Wallabies during his playing career, chats exclusively to Sport24 ahead of the all-important Newlands Test on Saturday.

Sport24: Do you share the view that the new scrum laws have given the Springboks an edge?

Tiaan Strauss: Owing to the sheer size and strength of the Bok pack, the new scrum laws certainly work in their favour. The contest is now more about pure strength and less about technique. Previously, a prop with really good technique that hit in with speed would often gain the upper-hand, but now the scrums have almost become a wrestling contest.

Sport24: Are you surprised that Ewen McKenzie has opted for Benn Robinson on the bench?

Tiaan Strauss:
Yes. In my view he’s Australia’s best scrummager and I would have him in my starting side. While the return of James Horwill will help stabilise the Wallaby scrum, I do believe the Boks have the edge in this department. So far in the Rugby Championship, the Bok scrum has been one of the most impressive areas of their game. They will certainly target the Wallaby scrums as a point of weakness having dominated the duels in Brisbane.

Sport24: The Boks have also improved markedly at the breakdown. What do you attribute this to?

Tiaan Strauss: I believe the key to the Boks’ success has been all about committing the right numbers to the breakdown in order to generate quick, front-foot ball. The trick is not to over commit numbers to the ruck and tackle areas and I feel the Boks have found the right balance.
Sport24: McKenzie believes the Wallabies will match the Bok physically? Your take?

Tiaan Strauss: The Wallabies failed to do so in Brisbane. In that Test, the Boks were dominant in all facets of contact. To be honest, I can’t see the Wallabies matching the Springboks physically for the full 80 minutes. If the Wallabies hope to upset the Boks, I believe they will need to instead look at speeding up the game and moving the ball quickly from the breakdown. In order to stop the Boks gaining momentum over the advantage line, the Wallabies will have to rush up more often on defence. That was something the All Blacks did effectively against the Springboks in Auckland.

Sport24: The Bok loose trio is now a settled combination. What makes it such an effective unit?

Tiaan Strauss: The great balance to the loose trio and the fact that the players complement one another well with the different skills they possess. As a former eighthman, I appreciate the huge impact Duane Vermeulen has made on his return to the side. While he’s a very strong ball-carrier, I most admire his fighting spirit and competitive nature. I’ve also been impressed with the number of turnovers he’s made, most notably against the All Blacks.

Sport24: How has loose forward play evolved since you hung up your boots in 2000?

Tiaan Strauss: The players are now certainly bigger and stronger than before. In my playing days, there was more space on the field and there was also more place in the game for skilful loose forwards such as Bobby Skinstad. The modern game has become more physical and direct.

Sport24: You captained the Boks once. What leadership qualities has Jean de Villiers displayed?

Tiaan Strauss:
Jean has the respect of many in the game and his teammates clearly look up to him. One of his greatest qualities as captain is his calmness under pressure. He is able to make solid decisions even during the most trying times. And he has also learnt to ‘manage’ the referee well. As a captain, while not being too pushy, one has to ask the right questions at the right time.

Sport24: The Boks are clear favourites. Is playing at home an added pressure or an extra incentive?

Tiaan Strauss: While playing at home does ensure a greater weight of expectation from the public, professional player and sides use that pressure as positive fuel and it serves as further motivation. 

Sport24: Having represented both nations at Test level, where will your allegiance lie on Saturday?

Tiaan Strauss: Definitely with the Springboks. You can change a guys’ jersey but you can’t change his blood! In 1999, I played for the Wallabies against the Boks at Newlands and we lost the game 10-9, so maybe that’s a good omen for this weekend… I see the Boks beating the Wallabies 28-14.

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