herald

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Proud Strauss primed for Ireland baptism at Aviva

HE is the man with the smallest feet in Irish rugby, but he also houses one of the biggest hearts.

RICHARDT STRAUSS was too small, they said, to make it as an international in South Africa. He left his homeland disillusioned with the likely path his future would take as a former openside flanker about to transition into a hooker.

He arrived with no guarantees, no reputation on this side of the world and no one to call a friend. He has spent three years winning over the Leinster public as a dynamic, pinball machine of a player who puts his heart and soul into his work.

"When I came over, I was 23 years old. I was very young and experienced. The toughest thing was just saying goodbye to your family," said the shy man from Bloemfontein.

"Once I got here and got used to the weather, I was pretty happy. Myself and my wife enjoy Ireland. It is the best thing that could have happened to us."

Strauss may have left his family behind, but his bigger, hairier cousin Adriaan Strauss will man the hooker's berth for South Africa in the absence of Bismarck du Plessis.

"When we started off, he was with the (Blue) Bulls and I was with Free State (Cheetahs). We have ran into each other two or three times before," issued Richardt.

Bonds

"We try to leave the family bonds off the pitch, go at one another and, afterwards, we will have a beer or something."

Will he feel a surge of emotion when the South African national anthem is played? "No. I see myself as an Irish rugby player. Hopefully, I will be lucky enough to be a citizen."

Strauss has earned the right to wear the green, or black, of Ireland through a three-year transitional period on order to satisfy the residency rule.

He has played 71 times for Leinster, starting on 57 occasions, and wore the number two jersey in the Heineken Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2012.

Captain Jamie Heaslip referred to him as a 'devil for the poach' as a former flanker and 'explosive onto the ball' as a nugget carrier with a low centre of gravity.

"I think I am a completely different player just from the amount of coaching. The technical support you get here is something I never got in South Africa.

"My ball skills, my throwing and my scrummaging have improved. My decision-making, when to go into the breakdown, when to stay out, the specific drills, all of it."

There are many kinds of families in the world, the one you are born into and the one you grow through life are two of them.

Leinster is in Strauss's heart. Ireland can be too - in time.

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