Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has offered a ringing endorsement of captain Adriaan Strauss ahead of the third Test against Ireland on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Port Elizabeth.
At the end of May, Strauss was confirmed as the new Bok skipper for the three-Test series against Ireland, with former national captains such as Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield having retired after last year's World Cup.
Although Strauss’s appointment was initially just for the June series against Ireland, with the captaincy role then set to be reassessed, Coetzee provided some early indications on Thursday that he had been mightily impressed by the all-round contribution of the skipper.
‘There are little things that go unnoticed when it comes to Adriaan, but he’s played a huge leadership role, and he’s very calm and collected when it comes to decision-making. He’s also got a great demeanour when it comes to handling everyone’s input and he filters that through to hit all the right notes. I’m really proud of the way he has conducted himself and represented the team both on and off the field.’
During Heyneke Meyer’s tenure, De Villiers was also initially named captain on an interim basis, but ultimately won over the confidence of the former Bok coach and became a long-term appointment.
It will be interesting to see if this could transpire to be a similar scenario with Strauss, who would be nearly 34 by the time the next World Cup rolls around.
It’s certainly not something Coetzee will be concerning himself with at this point, although the Bok coach also moved to endorse the impact Strauss was making as the first-choice hooker.
‘People might look at Adriaan and compare him with other hookers who are contributing in broken play and all over the field. But he’s a typical set-piece hooker who will ensure that area of the game functions well, and that’s where Test rugby starts. If you look at the first two Tests, we had 16 lineouts in the first game and lost just one. In the second game we had 14 lineouts and missed just one again. Adriaan’s proven his value under pressure against an Irish team that is very good at the defensive lineouts.’
Meanwhile, Warren Whiteley, who is viewed by many as the strong alternative for the long-term captaincy role, will have a big opportunity to stake a claim for the No 8 jersey when he starts his first Test this Saturday.
Whiteley replaces the injured Duane Vermeulen, and although the two are very different types of players, Coetzee said this was not a concern.
‘You’ll always have players who play in the same position but offer something different, I’m just happy I’ve got both Duane and Warren to call on. We all know how competitive Duane is in the physical exchanges and defensively, while Warren offers threats in the wider channels and covers lots of ground with his work rate. His try last weekend came from being in the right place at the right time. He has been performing consistently for the past couple of seasons, and this is now a great opportunity for him.’
Last weekend, Pieter-Steph du Toit finished the match at blindside flank after shifting from lock to make way for Franco Mostert, and while this proved to be an effective move, Coetzee insisted it was not a long-term plan they had for Du Toit.
‘We saw the rewards of having that extra size and ball-carrying ability when Pieter-Steph was at No 7, but I believe he must work towards becoming an absolutely world-class No 5 lock, someone who can be even better than Victor when he gets to the next World Cup.
'We’re blessed with flankers in this country, and while it’s great to have Pieter-Steph’s versatility, it’s not really something we’re looking at long-term. There are so many things you have to get right as a No 5 lock, such as managing the lineout and ball-carrying, and he must be able to focus on those things.’
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images