- The former Scotland international, who featured in 24 Tests, talks about his unexpected journey from Wellington to Murrayfield and if he regrets not playing for the Springboks.
- The ex-Bulls eighthman unpacks what led to him leaving Loftus prematurely and how close he came to penning a contract with the Stormers with whom he spent a month training.
- He also assesses the premier No 8s in the game today and discusses why he feels Juarno Augustus is a special talent and can challenge Duane Vermeulen for the national jersey.
Sport24 asked: How close were you to signing for the Stormers?
Josh Strauss: I trained for free with the Stormers for a month during Super Rugby Unlocked and originally there was chat about a contract. I started my career with Boland and it would have been special to join. However, it was just one of those situations where everything that could go wrong for me went wrong (in terms of earning a playing contract). The Springboks were supposed to play in the Rugby Championship and that’s when WP Rugby got in contact and told me they were going to contract me. As we know, that didn’t happen, but John Dobson asked me to stay on because he still wanted to keep me somehow. Then it all came down to the equity deal happening (which hasn’t yet been agreed) and it all went on too long to earn a playing contract... I have always been a big believer that a club should be privately owned. I think the South African rugby unions could be a helluva lot stronger if they were all privately owned. I’m not that clued up with what’s going on off the field at WP. However, I’ve heard things have been boycotted and now it’s a back and forth. I don’t have the financial statements in front of me, but reading between the lines I don’t think things are going brilliantly financially for the union. I don’t really see why they wouldn’t take the investment deal. WP is a great union and Cape Town is a beautiful city. It should be one of the greatest places in the world to play rugby, but for it to work you need the financial side to be right.
Sport24 asked: Why was your time at the Bulls a short-lived affair?
Josh Strauss: I loved my stint with the Bulls and would probably class it as one of my favourite times playing rugby. Pote Human made my time at the Bulls exceptional. It’s probably a bit cheesy to say, but I fell in love with him from day one. I really enjoyed him and he felt like a father figure to me. I was lucky enough to be in the leadership group and I saw how he cared. He tried to look after every player and, at times, to his own detriment because you can’t keep everyone happy. I have great respect for the way he treated me personally... It’s a blanket statement to say it should be family first. As an older player, it makes sense for me to be family first and I believe you have to get that side right. Most players have an emotional bond to their family and if you are happy in that sense you are going to be happier in general and, my opinion, that will show on a rugby field. I didn’t know that Duane Vermeulen has been living in the hotel next to Loftus and has hardly been able to see his wife and kids. That’s the reason I left Pretoria. To be fair, I wasn’t too clued up with what was going on when Jake White came in. There was talk in the press about players getting cut left, right and centre. There was the stress of contemplating, “Am I one of the players to get cut?” I had just arrived and while I luckily wasn’t one of the players who were on the chopping block in the end, the dynamic of being able to come home often changed. I have no bad feelings or ill will towards anyone at the Bulls and the decision rested on wanting to spend more time with my family. The team has played really well under White and all credit to them as they deservedly won Super Rugby Unlocked.
Sport24 asked: At 34, have you considered hanging up the boots?
Josh Strauss: I thought about retiring even before I went to the Bulls, but physically I feel fine and I think I proved it to myself in Super Rugby. I started all seven games and played 80 minutes in six of them. At my age, I still feel like I can contribute and that I’m a decent player. Lockdown helped as well as I felt fresh thereafter, having given my body a good rest. I also had a figure in my mind in terms of what would make it worth it for me to go overseas again because my family will be staying in South Africa. We all stress about finances, but I didn’t have to make a rushed decision. I had a few offers, but some of them were taking a chance. I believe the thinking was, “It’s Covid-19, the market is down, so let’s try and see if we can get this guy for peanuts.” At my age, everyone thinks you are coming for a retirement package. I waited and waited and then in one week, I actually received three offers which were all quite good. I have sort of finalized my next move, but I’m a pessimist and won’t say a thing until I have signed on the dotted line. As far as heads of terms are concerned it’s apparently a done deal. However, until I see it in black and white, I won’t be jumping for joy. The contract will be for longer than a year - and while my wife Tami-Lee and two daughters will stay in South Africa - there is always the distinct possibility that they will join me overseas at a later stage.
Sport24 asked: How do you reflect on your Test career with Scotland?
Josh Strauss: I decided to head to Europe, but initially it wasn’t with the intention of playing for Scotland. Glasgow offered me a good contract and it was time for me to go. I really enjoyed playing for Scotland and I loved the guys standing next to me. For me, in any team sport it’s about caring for the guy next to you... There are few things in rugby as cool as singing Flower of Scotland at Murrayfield. I played in the Six Nations and at the 2015 World Cup, so I’m very lucky to say I’ve been able to have done that. To my detriment, I started at an older age and only got my first Test cap at the age of 29. I quickly got to a point where I was spending a lot of time away from my family - sometimes as many as seven weeks at a time - and I started losing the enjoyment for it (the game) and there was also a bit of head-butting with coaches. It got to a point where it wasn’t worth it for me. At one stage, they called me up again and I went back and played in every game. But then again with a bit of head-butting things went sideways. It was unspoken between me and the management team, but we all knew that that was it and we have not spoken since. Apparently I am difficult to deal with because I have had very few coaches who like me, so maybe I’m doing something wrong.
Sport24 asked: Do you have any regrets not playing for South Africa?
Josh Strauss: I wouldn’t say I regret anything I did, but I would have changed a few things in my career if I had known what I know now. I don’t want to be one of those guys one day who say, “If I stayed in South Africa I would have been a Springbok.” People will think that you back yourself too much. But I do believe I would have earned a Springbok cap out of it if I had stayed and kept knocking my head against the wall. However, I made the choice to go having been relegated from Super Rugby with the Lions. I’m now at an age where I am quite content with what I have done over the course of my career. It’s tough to sound like I’m not patriotic, but I never even expected to play Currie Cup rugby let alone be in contention to play for the Springboks. In matric, I had to start by playing in the 11th team. I played myself up to the second team and that is where it ended. Coming out of school, no one expected anything from me. I wasn’t the classic first team captain and had to go to Boland to try play under-19 Currie Cup at the time. It’s fair to say that I walked a bit of a different path to what a lot of the other guys did. As I said earlier, I almost never expected to play Currie Cup rugby, so everything that has happened to me over my career has been an added bonus.
Sport24 asked: Who do you rate as the premier No 8s in the game today?
Josh Strauss: I rate Billy Vunipola quite highly. I played against him a couple of times and he is as hard as nails. Another eighthman, who was one of the toughest opponents I played against is Louis Picamoles. He may not be the talk of the town anymore, but he was exceptionally difficult to play against at the peak of his powers. I have also been impressed with Gregory Alldritt, who has replaced Picamoles for France. I rate him and he had an outstanding Six Nations, scooping three Man of the Match awards in five games. He is a very good young player. On a South African front, I have got to know and love Juarno Augustus from my time at the Stormers. They don’t make them like that every day – the guy is an absolute unit. Trokkie is a special young player and hopefully has a long career ahead of him. On the other side of the coin, Duane Vermeulen is a seasoned campaigner. He is my age, he has achieved so much over the course of his career and is still playing really well. I’m sure his goal would be to play against the British and Irish Lions in 2021. Trokkie, being the new guy on the block, is also in the mix for the series, which only comes to South Africa every 12 years.
Sport24 asked: Dream dinner guests. Who would you invite over and why?
Josh Strauss: In terms of a dinner party, the one guest I would love to have is Will Ferrell. I think the American comedian must be the funniest guy in the world. I love Danny McBride as well and I think he would be a great laugh. I would also invite South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I like the way the show makes fun of subjects that other people find very offensive. I’m a big believer that you should not take yourself too seriously because in the greater scheme of things you are very unimportant. In terms of music for the evening, we would bring our punk rock band back together. We have had a few band names and our last was Annie Avenue because she is the girl who sang with us. That was the last project I was officially involved with and we actually released a five-track CD.