'It's not about vengeance but it is personal' - Springbok skipper Strauss
No player with a mind towards the legacy that will remain after he retires would like to be remembered as the first captain to cede a series on home soil to an apparently inferior nation, but that’s precisely the prospect confronting South Africa’s Adriaan Strauss ahead of tomorrow’s pivotal second test against Ireland.
One would pay far more than a penny for the private thoughts of the respective skippers that will lead out Ireland and South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
In last week’s 26-20 win in Cape Town, Rory Best, who heretofore has appeared suffocated as Ireland’s nominal leader, gave his best performance in a green jersey since succeeding Paul O’Connell.
The Ulster hooker finally looked unfettered by the mantle and was, somehow, both a bullish and serene presence as he steered the 14-man visitors to a first ever win on South African soil.
After an inconsistent Six Nations campaign, Best took the first major scalp of his tenure. And, now, he stands on the verge of leading his country to a first ever series win in arguably the most hostile environment in world rugby.
Conversely, Strauss, the new captain of a new coach - Allister Coetzee - to a formative team, is on the precipice of an ignominious entry in the annals of Springbok history.
Speaking to the media today, Strauss did not try to underplay the significance of the task at hand or the previous shortcomings.
“I'm pretty calm about the captaincy but I’m aware of the responsibility there. And, with responsibility comes accountability. So that makes it a bit personal.
“But losing on your home soil will always be tough for a South African team. We owe ourselves a better performance.
“I take the loss very personally. It wasn’t a good start for us, the season and the campaign, but we get another chance this weekend and we need to be better.
“We need to make better decisions and, like I said, for me it was very personal. A loss like that needs to hurt, and it definitely did. You could feel it after the game that the guys were very disappointed but, at some stage, you need to get over it.”
South Africa were disjointed in Cape Town, and gave the impression of a side unsure of themselves and the type of game they were endeavouring to play.
The loss of Pat Lambie at 10, who was knocked unconscious by CJ Stander’s attempted block down, was hardly ideal, though the exciting Elton Jantjies is viewed by many as the Springbok’s marquee out half.
As result of Stander’s dismissal, the Boks sought to exploit what they perceived as unattended ground out wide but, largely, a Trojan Irish effort compensated for their numerical disadvantage.
Lwazi Mvovo went over in the first half and replacement lock Pieter Steph du Toit ran in an intercept score late on, however, Andy Farrell’s notably more aggressive defensive system seems to have caught the hosts unawares.
Citing that, Ireland’s ferocity at the breakdown and the ripped turnovers from Best and Iain Henderson, Strauss identified specific areas where the Test was won and lost.
“We need to be smart about the rush defence, the way they get off the line. We need to be better upfront at maul time, that’s one area we pride ourselves in. They did well to disrupt us there and they got momentum there and it’s an area we need to face up to.
“And, again, at the breakdown, they were really effective at turning over the ball in that area and in ripping away the ball.”
Unlike Ireland, the Springboks have made minimal changes from last week, both injury enforced. Jantjies comes in for Lambie, while Du Toit replaces Lood de Jaager at lock.
Their half back pairing of Jantjies and Faf de Klerk have just four test caps between them, which could explain the uneven shape of the side, but Strauss claimed to have confidence in their game management skills.
With the requisite work banked over the last five days, the hooker believes tomorrow is an opportunity to make amends, not settle a score
“We’ve had a very good week’s preparation. We dealt with the issues that there were, we fixed a couple of things and we put a couple of things in place.
“The vision the coach has us for us, we want to chase that every game, and we definitely let ourselves down, the supporters and the country and we let him down as well.
“This is not about vengeance, it’s about our own standards. We need to be better, we’re a great group of players and have the ability to be much better than we were last week.”