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Lionheart Strauss set for battle

THIS week, like last week (and every one between September and the end of May) is not the time for kidding around.

There's a difference between fooling around and producing your 'game' face, but casual observers to the province's afternoon session in UCD earlier this week could have been forgiven for thinking that they were back in the schoolyard.

Watching grown men linking arms and chasing down their colleagues in a good-natured exercise which not only serves as a valued warm up before the real heavy on-field action got under way, it also reinforces the idea of hunting in packs.

This pack mentality will be tested to its fullest in the south of France tomorrow afternoon.

Richardt Strauss is truly a pit-bull amongst the bulldogs. A diminutive hooker with the heart of a lion, the Pretorian who featured in 30 games last season epitomises the courage and bloody-mindedness which separates true quality from the norm.

Vertically challenged he may be, but as the old saying goes; it's not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

"Montpellier have a massively physical pack of forwards and we know all about the challenges that they're going to pose," was the 25-year-old's crisp assessment of the French opponents on the eve of the south of France showdown.

Clichéd it may seem, but Strauss knows the challenges that last year's Top14 runners-up will pose. He cites the heaviest man in European rugby, France 'A' lock Aliki Kakate, who weighs in at a mere 140kg (or 22 stone to those of you of a certain vintage) and the giant Georgian Mamuka Gorgodze -- affectionately known as 'Godzilla' -- who was a recent star of the Rugby World Cup and who patrols the set piece and broken play with a menacing tenacity.

But 'the bigger they come, the harder they fall' is an expression which sums up Strauss' approach to giant opponents.

"Look, I was the youngest boy of four children, so I'm well used to battles," he grinned. "Seriously though, I have always been one of the smaller guys in whichever team I've played for, but that gives you an advantage in other areas because I have a lower trajectory which helps me take down the biggest guys.

"Montpellier will be big and tough and with the game being played in a stadium (the Stade de la Mosson) which holds over 30,000 supporters, it will be intimidating. But you have to face these kinds of challenges head on and in a positive frame of mind.

"We haven't played Montpellier before, so it's a bit of a step into the unknown for us this weekend, but that makes it all the more exciting. Playing in France also brings about its own unique challenge. The atmosphere is different to what we usually play in, but I think most players enjoy that.

"The home crowd is right on top of you, but even though our supporters will be in the minority we know that there are hundreds of them who are going to make the trip over. We are really grateful to our followers because you could see last year how much they inspired us.

"It was the same last weekend in the Aviva. Okay, our performance against Munster wasn't as accurate as we would have wanted and we were disappointed with aspects of our play and we're not kidding ourselves about aspects of our performance, but we have a decent base to work on this week."

It is to Strauss' credit that he featured in so many games last year, and last weekend's 80-minute shift was his eighth game in this campaign. With Sean Cronin and Aaron Dundon swelling the hooking ranks over the summer months alongside the returning Tom Sexton, Strauss believes that the added competitiveness will bring out the best in all of the players.

"We're fighting every day to make an impression and get into the squad."

And as a new challenger awaits, a new fight is set to get under way.


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