THE GAME HAD yet to begin and Richardt Strauss had already struck the right chord.
While many of us at the Aviva strained our eyes for assistance in singing along to Amhrán na bhFiann, Strauss was the image of quiet determination as he echoed the national anthem.
Simon Zebo remarked after the match that most of the players lining up before the 16-12 loss to South Africa, Strauss’ native country, were taken by surprise that their new hooker was singing in Irish.
“I really tried,” he told TheScore.ie. “It was something for me.
It would have been special or would not have felt right if I didn’t [sing]. I’ve committed myself to Ireland and was really proud to play my part.”
“I’m not normally a guy that gets over-emotional,” he added. “I actually get fired up when people start crying.
“As we ran out onto the pitch, I felt myself being really emotional.
“After a while I told myself, ‘you have to get this aside, you’ve got a massive job to do’. As soon as the first contact was made, you have to calm down, play your game and do your job.”
Bloodied but unbowed
All eyes were on Strauss in the opening exchanges, with the home supporters hoping for the 26-year-old to replicate the form that has electrified Leinster’s forward play and led to Springbok captain referring to him as ‘an extra loosie’.
Less than three minutes were on the clock when he had to be replaced for provincial colleague Sean Cronin as medical staff tried to stem the blood flowing from his bottom lip.
Was it a special welcome from his countrymen?
“Yes it was,” he confirmed. “It was an accident, though, by Ruan Pienaar’s boot.”
Richardt Strauss at Carton House today. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
If it was a mistake from the Ulster scrum-half it was only of the only ones he made in a typically assured performance that was capped with a crucial second-half try. Strauss said:
We thought we were playing well and had to keep doing what we were doing. Obviously the breakdown didn’t go as well in the second-half and they got back into the game.
“We made a couple of bad decisions and let them in at a really bad time … with sides like South Africa, New Zealand, you’re really going to struggle to get back into the game.”
An Irish rugby player
Strauss does not believe that Ireland’s intensity dropped off in the second-half but conceded they were ‘that second too late when we committed guys too late to the maul’.
“The size of some of those South Africans – you don’t want to get too up close and personal with them every day,” he said. “Their weight and stuff took its toll.”
It is encouraging to hear the hooker talk about Ireland and South Africa as ‘us and them’. He confirms the impression when he declares that he has cut all bonds with South Africa. Strauss commented:
When I left there I made a commitment to play and that I’m an Irish rugby player. If the public want to go on about me being a South African, back in South Africa, that’s up to them.
I don’t see myself as a South African rugby player at all. There’s no ill feelings there, it’s just that I see myself as an Irish rugby player.”
With Gloucester-born Dan Tuohy speaking to other sections of the media about his hopes of featuring against Fiji on Saturday, and Michael Bent from New Zealand alao making his Ireland debut, the national camp is getting a distinctly international flavour.
Strauss admits that it is occasionally ‘difficult as one of the outsiders’ but insists there is a good vibe in the camp.
“Hopefully the [supporters] accept us when we take the field,” he added.