EXCLUSIVE: Former Bulls, Lions and Scotland loosie Josh Strauss chats to Sport24

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Josh Strauss. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)
Josh Strauss. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)
  • The ex-Scotland international, who featured in 24 Tests from 2015 to 2019, talks about South Africa’s unapologetic style of play and how he rated their form on the year-end tour.
  • The former Lions and Bulls loose forward weighs up his nominations for the SA Rugby Player of the Year award and how Kwagga Smith has developed into a key member of the Bok side.
  • The current Tel Aviv Heat player/coach reveals how the move to Israel came about and his desire to cut his teeth in coaching, with his 15-year playing career soon reaching its climax.

Sport24 asked: How would you assess South Africa’s autumn tour?

Josh Strauss: I think the Springboks did really well on their end-of-year tour. People might criticise South Africa’s “negative” style of play. However, 10 years from now no one will remember how you won but just that you won. It’s not the Boks’ job to entertain but rather to win because rugby is a results-driven business. In saying that, I believe the Boks played to their strengths. They beat sides by being physical, not letting the game get loose and allowing for a wide-wide style of play. The Boks had good victories over Wales and Scotland and there was no disgrace in losing to England, who are a very strong side at the moment. On their day, Eddie Jones’ charges are one of the better teams in the world… In general, South Africa’s first-phase defence was okay over the autumn series. But the one try in particular the Springboks conceded against England was very soft. You can say you don’t expect to see that at this level but we have all been part of those moments and it happens to all of us. The system is definitely not to blame and it comes down to a player either going in or out too hard on an opponent and leaving a massive hole for one guy to run through. Any team at that level analyses what they have to do and what the other team is doing. However, probably 70-80% of the time those things don’t come off. It’s very seldom that you break the line and score. First-phase tries across any competitions constitute a very small percentage. England obviously saw something and hoped it would happen. In the moment, it clicked perfectly and exactly what they planned came off.

Sport24 asked: What is your appraisal of Kwagga Smith’s impact?

Josh Strauss: I think Kwagga has been incredible ever since he came into the starting XV in the injury-enforced absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit. Over and above the fact that he doesn’t give away many penalties and makes really good decisions, everything he does is at 100% and he possesses an incredible engine. I would love to see that guy run a fitness test! If you asked me around five years ago if Sevens players can make it in 15s, I would have told you that you don’t really get guys that transition well. However, the level and standard of Sevens has since improved massively. Now you have players who can come straight from Sevens to 15s. I think Kwagga has been amazing. I rate him highly and his energy is special. I reckon that being regarded as maybe a bit too small has forged him into the personality he is today. As a smaller player, you always feel like you have to give a bit more to be on a level playing field with some of the man mountains out there. Players like Kwagga, who hail from Sevens, are now more physical and comfortable to take contact than they were in the past.

Sport24 asked: Your nominations for SA Rugby Player of the Year?

Josh Strauss: My vote for SA Rugby Player of the Year would be between Damian de Allende and Eben Etzebeth, with a notable mention for Siya Kolisi. For me, it’s a toss-up between Damian and Eben. The former was the best in terms of consistency and everything he does is right. The latter enjoyed a very good season but there was a lot of flash involved as well. I would define flash as big moments that you see, whereas with De Allende he did everything right every game and has for most of his career. I have always rated him as a player that does everything right the whole time he plays. However, it’s a catch-22 because you don’t just want to reward someone for having a flashy season – in the case of Etzebeth – but I also feel if you are not going to get rewarded for having that one big season then when are you ever going to win something? In terms of Siya, he has been properly seen this season and has made a big impact. He has really stepped up in terms of being a leader. I know it sounds clichéd but he really leads from the front each time he takes to the field for South Africa... In terms of World Rugby Player of the Year, I think Antoine Dupont will win based on the hype around him and how well France have done. In my opinion, you’re not going to win World Player of the Year if your teams not properly dominating. For me, Du Pont will get the nod because France is winning and, having hammered the All Blacks last Saturday, it should seal the deal for him.

Sport24 asked: Your take on the South African teams’ URC entry?

Josh Strauss: The South African teams started out fairly slowly in the United Rugby Championship. Some were quick to jump on the bandwagon and say, “I told you SA rugby isn’t what it used to be!” Even though the South Africans aren’t currently the best teams in the competition, they found their feet coming to the end of that first block of fixtures. And by the time we reach the business end of the competition, I believe they will be pushing for the top places. However, in the same breath the European teams exposed some of the flaws within South African rugby in terms of financial structures at the unions. I think the Bulls and Sharks will finish the season as the top-placed South African teams. There is plenty of talent and depth at those unions coupled with more investment. However, I’m not taking anything away from the Stormers. They have done really well and there is some incredible depth coming through. In terms of my former team, the Lions, I think the coaching changes are very good. It’s a nice mix of guys within the coaching ranks. Some played at a high level, while others have very good coaching CVs. More experience and stability was needed at the union.

Sport24 asked: Will Dave Rennie escape sanction for his refereeing remarks?

Josh Strauss: I don’t think World Rugby will paint the Rassie Erasmus and Dave Rennie scenarios with the same brush. With Rennie (who described the officiating in the Wales/Australia match as “horrendous”) I think they are going to argue that it was a heat of the moment situation compared to a planned sit down from Rassie where he had time to cool down and make his points in the much spoken about video. I think that is going to be the argument there – heat of the moment compared to planned character assassination. I think Rennie will escape punishment and may just get a wrap on the knuckles. When it’s a post-game interview, you’re fresh off a loss and it’s an emotional affair.

Sport24 asked: How did your surprise move to Tel Aviv Heat come about?

Josh Strauss: I had been chatting with my agent about getting into coaching and life after playing rugby, as I’m in the twilight of my career in the latter regard. An opportunity has come up to be a player/assistant coach with Tel Aviv Heat and I will specialise in terms of the line-outs. At the moment, my contract with Tel Aviv is just for this season but we sort of discussed me being part of the team for as long as I want to be. It was a bit up in the air because I still had an offer to consider in France. After last season with Oyonnax, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to play but I probably needed to. I was in the process of making that decision when Tel Aviv Heat Director of Rugby Kevin Musikanth phoned me. In terms of my long-term coaching aspirations, working as a line-out consultant with the Springboks is definitely not an ambition right now. I just try to live in the moment. I have been fortunate enough to get the Tel Aviv Heat gig which provides an opportunity to get my feet wet in the world of coaching. I have done some coaching while I’ve played, and coached a school side when I was a bit younger. I enjoyed it but there’s a difference to coaching socially as opposed to professionally. When it’s the latter, it’s your job and it’s results-driven. However, I also might not be completely done with playing – I’ve got to make that decision – but I’m at an age (35) where I’m 50/50 on that front. I don’t want to wait too long to get the next stage of my career going.

Previous interviews:

Mouritz Botha

David Denton

Warren Brosnihan

Dale Benkenstein

Stephen Mokoka

Nolan Hoffman

Eugene Eloff

Mark Robinson

Stefan Terblanche

Neil de Kock

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