IRELAND hooker Richardt Strauss has earned the right to hold his head high.
It was three short years back that he was first introduced to the media on the blue seats in the main stand in Donnybrook as a relatively unknown, shy, 23-year-old South African with an ambition to play international rugby -- for Ireland.
Since then, he has crawled right inside the body of the Leinster team to play a vital role as the heartbeat in the middle of the front row for two of their three Heineken Cups.
He thought he knew how to keep cool when the moment came to make his Ireland debut against his own country South Africa on Saturday. There was just a chink in his emotional armour.
"I am really not a guy who gets emotional. I get fired up when people get emotional and start crying. I never thought it was going to happen to me," he revealed.
"As we ran out onto the pitch, I found myself getting really emotional. I had to get myself together. It was no time to get over-emotional. After a couple of seconds, I was down," he said.
The Springboks were determined to show him the error of his ways. He took a boot in the gob in the first play of the game and absorbed serious punishment until he was called ashore.
"It happened with Ruan Pienaar and he is the most soft-spoken, nice guy of theirs. As he kicked, I tried to ankle tackle him," he said.
The result was a blood substitution and a number of stitches to his lower lip. He doesn't know how many. He was just focused on getting back out there. He wanted to savour the situation.
"I always said I don't just want to get my first Test over. It was something I wanted to cherish and remember. Apart from the result, it was something really special," he said.
"I was really disappointed in the result. I really thought we had them. At half-time, we felt comfortable and in control of the game. We weren't stressed by their attack. For some reason, we just didn't do what we did in the first half."
Strauss has grown up since moving away from home. That much was obvious from his confident session with the media at Carton House yesterday. There is a maturity that wasn't there three years ago when he dared to follow his dream.
"When I got over here, you don't realise the quality of player over here. I had to sit on the couch and watch some of the lads play," he said, as he made his way back from a serious injury in his first season.
"I knew it was going to be really tough and not as easy as people might think. I have been fortunate enough that everything has worked out for me."
Fortunate? No way. The typically humble Strauss succeeded Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty at Leinster. He has achieved his first cap for Ireland.
The next step is to oust Rory Best and keep Munster's Damien Varley and Mike Sherry at arm's length.
What he gives away in inches and pounds, he recovers through a unique all-round skill set, perfectly suited to Leinster's explosive, high-tempo style.
The Pretorian-born, Bloemfontein-educated flanker-turned-hooker travelled halfway around the world to get what he wanted. He won't stop now.
"The day you stop learning is the day you have to hang up your boots. When you think you know it all, that's when you've got to get out."
Strauss will be here for some time.
RICHARDT STRAUSS ON IRELAND'S TWO TIGHT-HEADS
MIKE ROSS: "We have played together for three years for Leinster. We are comfortable with each other. The most important thing is to get comfortable with the guy next to you."
MICHAEL BENT: "I thought Michael did really well when he came on. He got that penalty and stood his ground pretty well. It is only going to get better the more we play together."