Strauss paying more than mere lip service to Irish cause
Published 14/11/2012 | 05:00
"Sorry I'm talking like this, I'm feeling a little bit stupid."
Richardt Strauss is bearing the physical and emotional scars from his Ireland debut.
The emotion will stay with him for a lifetime; the physical evidence of Saturday's bruising encounter with his native South Africa will, hopefully, subside sooner rather than later.
Ruan Pienaar, Ulster's peaceable, but pre-eminent Springbok scrum-half, was the unlikely source of the protrusion from his lower lip, which, just three minutes in, welcomed Strauss to the unique cauldron that is Test rugby.
"As he kicked, I tried to ankle tap him and just dived into the back of his boot, so I was pretty unlucky," Strauss smiles, speaking with more than a little difficulty through his damaged mouth.
Such was the impact of his declaration for Ireland, backboned by such an impressive performance thereafter, when, stitched up, he returned to the fray, one could cheekily suggest that his former comrades were delivering a less than subtle message.
"No, I don't think so," he says.
Aside from near decapitation, Strauss was able to indulge himself in the overwrought occasion by wallowing in every moment, even if he had so often prevaricated upon whether he should tempt fate by learning his new anthem.
"Aw, I always said I didn't just want to get my first Test over, it was something I wanted to cherish and remember, apart from the result," he opines.
"It's something that's special and it's just ironic that I happened to play against my cousin (Adriaan, the opposition hooker).
"So there's something in there, but yeah, just delighted to get the first one under my belt."
As for the anthem and his – to lip readers, at least – a pitch-perfect performance?
"Aw no, I looked it up on YouTube and then on the internet a bit. I then listened to it and played it back and got another thing off the internet where they break the words into a more simple pronunciation.
"I actually originally thought of it a while back, but I thought I don't want to be arrogant and jinx the whole thing.
"So I thought I'd do it the first week we got into camp and then got overcome with all the new detail and left it off until last week.
"So I only started learning it off then and it was actually quite easy.
"I didn't practise it on anyone. I wouldn't say I'm the best singer in the world, so I tried to keep it as private as possible. Maybe a couple of the lads were surprised. I'm not sure."
He wouldn't be human if he had not also felt a tinge of emotion when the South African anthem was then played.
Those who know him, though, point to a single-minded attitude that brooks no peripheral influences.
Even the memory of him leaving home, when his parents saw him off in floods of tears, didn't break him. It came close, though.
"I'm really not a guy who really gets quite emotional," he reveals. "I always get fired up when people get emotional and start crying and stuff and I never thought it was going to happen to me.
"And as we ran onto the pitch I found myself getting really emotional and thought, 'get yourself together, don't get over-emotional now.' And after a couple of seconds on the pitch I calmed down and I was alright."
His aforementioned cousin reckoned that the Leinster player was destined to play international rugby once he decided to pitch up on pastures new. Strauss himself wasn't so confident.
"I wouldn't say that," he demurs. "Obviously, it was always in the back of my mind to maybe come here if things went well.
"But when I got over here... you don't really realise the quality of players that are over here. And I had to sit on the couch and watch the lads play and think 'this is going to be really tough and not as easy as people might think'."
He's an Irish international now, though, and soon, in two years' time to be precise, he will investigate whether he will fully integrate and assume Irish citizenship. His colours have already been tied firmly to the mast, though.
His parents only flew out this week after seeing their son complete his arduous journey to becoming an international rugby player many miles from his Pretoria birthplace.
"They really loved it," he reports. "I didn't get to spend much time with them, but they're really happy. Obviously it's tough on my mum. I remember the first time I left to come over here and it was quiet because of what was going on.
"But as I said goodbye, she burst out in tears and I actually felt quite sorry for her at that moment. But she's very happy, so it's alright."
And why shouldn't she be? While father Andries may bear a familiarly Afrikaans name, surely the fact that his mother is called Colleen hints at a certain predestination to a remarkable career.