Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss has conceded that he took last weekend’s shock loss to Ireland extremely personally. CRAIG LEWIS reports from Johannesburg.
The Boks’ first-ever loss to Ireland in South Africa marked an inauspicious start to a new era under coach Allister Coetzee and captain Strauss. This week, the general rhetoric out of the Bok camp has repeatedly revolved around their admissions that they let down not only themselves, but the entire country.
Public proclamations and recriminations aside, though, the manner in which the Boks now respond is set to provide more meaningful insights into the character and mental resolve of this Springbok outfit.
The Boks have identified the need to be more direct against Ireland, to improve their decision-making and particularly their accuracy at the collision areas.
During Friday’s captain’s press conference at the team hotel in Johannesburg, Strauss admitted it had been a week of honest introspection, and that it was now time for the Boks to walk the talk.
‘It was far from an ideal start last weekend, and I really took the loss personally … Everyone deals with it differently, and a loss like that needs to hurt, and it did. But at some stage you have to move on, and we’ve done that from Monday after having a hard look at the game. We’ve had a good week, dealt with the issues and now have another chance to put things right.’
As the leader of the team, Strauss said he knew he had to front up and answer as to where things went wrong.
‘I’ve been very calm about the captaincy, but I know that with responsibility there needs to be accountability. I have to take that upon myself, and it does make it a bit personal. Losing on home soil is tough, and especially at the start of a campaign where we had these great expectations, a great group of players, and knew what the public were expecting of us. We owed it to ourselves to produce a much better performance, but this is not about vengeance, it’s about meeting our own standards.’
Against all expectations last weekend, the Boks were often outmuscled at the collision areas, with Ireland’s low tackling on defence and better body height when taking ball into contact ensuring that the visitors won both the offensive and defensive breakdown battles.
Besides disrupting the Boks’ ball at the breakdown, Ireland were also effective in their defence of the maul, while they executed a far more well-balanced tactical and territorial game.
Strauss acknowledged that the Boks needed to complement brawn with brains on Saturday.
‘We need to be smart about how we deal with their rush defence, where they get off the line quickly, and it’s important for us to recognise when to kick into space or when to run. We also have to be better up front at maul time, that’s one area we pride ourselves on, but they did well to disrupt us there and gained momentum.
‘And again, at the breakdown, we gave away a lot of possession with silly mistakes, and they were very effective at turning over or ripping the ball away. We’ve also put a lot of emphasis on our ball carrying, that’s formed a massive part of our training sessions. Overall, it’s not only about a mindset shift, but consistently executing better habits.’
Interestingly, Ireland have made a number of changes to their team for Saturday’s clash, most notably up front where Iain Henderson shifts from lock to the loose trio in order to accommodate South African-born Quinn Roux.
Strauss said the Boks could not afford to read too much into the changes, although he acknowledged that they expected Roux to be fired up for his Test debut.
‘There are obviously quite a few changes to their team, but it really doesn’t matter who plays. It’s another Test match and those that come in will be determined to front up, just as they did last weekend. For Quinn, earning his first cap will be a massive day and he’ll be especially up for it. He’s a big guy and a really good player, so we know he’ll be very passionate and physical on Saturday.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images