Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Bulls captain ADRIAAN STRAUSS talks about calling time on his Springbok career, turning the tide at the Bulls and previews the duel against the Jaguares at Loftus on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: When you announced your retirement from Test rugby you said that your decision was made with a greater plan in mind. What factors led you to call time on your Springbok career?
Adriaan Strauss: Every older player has this voice in the back of his head that he would like to retire on his own terms and I believe that is exactly what I did at the end of last season. I had my run at national level and knew it was time to call it a day. I believe I made the right decision at the right time. There are many talented youngsters coming through the ranks. From a hooker point of view, the likes of Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx come to mind and, with the 2019 Rugby World Cup on the horizon, it made sense to me to make way for the next generation. There are plenty of talented players within South African rugby and the younger campaigners deserve the opportunity to gain Test match experience. I’m of the view that now is the time for an exciting new breed of Springbok players to stand up and take the lead. It was a massive honour to play for my country and I made some great on and off-field memories. Playing Test match rugby was challenging but I enjoyed that challenge. However, my outlook was always to do what was best for the team and I believe I succeeded in making a contribution to Springbok rugby. It’s now vital for the next crop of players to gain international experience and come into their own as professionals on the Test stage.
Sport24 asked: Allister Coetzee will announce the new Springbok captain ahead of the June Test series against France. Who are the prime candidates and what qualities define an effective leader?
Adriaan Strauss: At this stage, I don’t actually know who should succeed me and become the 58th Springbok captain. However, a number of young leaders are coming through and putting their hands up during Super Rugby. Last year was extremely challenging for the Springboks and it may be good for a younger captain to come to the fore. I feel it will be important for the new skipper to start from scratch and build a relationship with the players and coaches. It’s exciting starting a building process of something special with a new group of players, many of whom will become Springbok legends. I’m very positive about Springbok rugby and I truly believe that this will be a better year for SA rugby on the field. With some new players and coaches there will be a fresh energy and vision in the side. In terms of qualities which define an effective captain, everything you do on and off the field must be to the benefit of the team. In my book, the greater good of the team should always exceed individual ambition. When I led the Springboks last season, I ensured that my heart was always in the right place. For me, the foundation of successful captaincy is all about keeping your heart pure and being able to look at yourself in the mirror with a clear conscience. As national skipper, I also realised that my role was going to extend beyond what happened on the playing field on a Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Allister Coetzee said: “At a time when most players of his generation decided to move abroad, Adriaan chose to remain in SA.” Will you head abroad when your Bulls deal expires?
Adriaan Strauss: No. I actually had a number of opportunities to ply my trade overseas from a younger age but I have always wanted to stay in South Africa. I love the lifestyle here. For me, the older you get as a player, (Strauss is 31) the more difficult it becomes to leave your home and venture to a foreign-based club. I’m very thankful to hear that Allister has described me as a “magnificent servant of the game in South Africa” and I want to plough back my experience into SA rugby. It’s the best place for me to further my professional playing career. I don’t see myself playing overseas and, having penned a contract extension, I am contracted to the BBRU until October 2019.
Sport24 asked: The Bulls have endured a nightmare season. Do you take the criticism on the chin?
Adriaan Strauss: Yes. It’s fair criticism at the moment because we are not getting the desired results. We can’t just shut out the criticism and need to take it into consideration. We are under-performing at present and as a collective we need to make a step up because we are all in this together. We can’t hide behind any excuses because the results speak for themselves (The Bulls have only won one of six matches this term). We are a fry cry from the team that we want to be and it’s a daily fight and progression. We have tried to put things in place in order to speed up our development (team culture expert Owen Eastwood has worked with the Bulls) and we are learning from our mistakes. Our game regressed considerably against the Sunwolves in Tokyo. We let it slip against the Sunwolves and had a terrible game. They outplayed us in certain areas but up until that fixture we were definitely showing signs of progression and would like to continue on that path. We are determined to play the type of rugby we know we can and perform the way we know we should, starting this Saturday. The trick for us is to not look too far ahead into the future. First and foremost, we need to fix what we can now and then get to a point where we are actually performing at the level that we should. We need to make improvements in all aspects of our game. We have created try-scoring opportunities in a number of our games this season but we can definitely be more ruthless in terms of our execution on attack. We need to be more clinical and get points on the board in order to release the pressure. As far as our goals for the season are concerned, we weren’t talking about reaching the play-offs ahead of our first game and aren’t thinking of a top-six finish now. I believe that if you look past your next game in Super Rugby then you are in a world of trouble.
Sport24 asked: The Stormers boast a New Zealand coach in their ranks. Will the Bulls follow suit?
Adriaan Strauss: I know that the Stormers have been getting help from a New Zealand coach (Paul Feeney serves as attack and skills coach for the Cape Town-based side) but to be honest I’m not aware of talks that a New Zealand coaching consultant could join our set-up. All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith and Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie had information sessions with our coaching staff but there was nothing more to it. As a playing group, we fully support Nollis Marais’s decisions and when it comes to team selection it’s his prerogative. As coach, he does what he believes is best for the team.
Sport24 asked: You play host to the Jaguares on Saturday. What threats do the Argentines pose?
Adriaan Strauss: The Jaguares are a tough team to play against. They are physical in approach and possess a combative pack. Moreover, they are capable of shifting the ball through the phases and are very effective at keeping the ball alive. They make use of a rush defence and are effective at spoiling their opponents’ breakdown. We know that they are a dangerous side and we are going to have to be more effective at the breakdown and hang onto the ball. We can’t afford to concede as many turnovers as we did against the Sunwolves. Raul Perez’s men have played some great rugby this year and it will prove a challenging hurdle to overcome. However, the energy and focus is on righting the wrongs this weekend and we know what we need to do in order to win. It’s great to be back at Loftus and playing in front of our partisan crowd. Nevertheless, we understand that home ground advantage won’t give us the victory. Playing in Pretoria doesn’t necessarily mean that you get the points on the board. As a group, we have to earn the win and work hard to attain success. The fight within everyone is still the same and we will stay task-focused. The pressure is always there, especially during trying times, but as players we must still go out and really express ourselves.
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