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Strauss pulls heart strings

SOMETIMES the greatest battles a person can face are away from the boardroom, the playing field or the classroom.

Richardt Strauss knows about the challenges that life can throw at you.

It was just over three months ago when his world turned, where a hereditary heart complaint ceased his playing career for what was initially deemed to be the medium to long term.

The medical attention and assurance which he received in those early days compounded the initial shock and once surgery and the subsequent convalescence was complete, the Pretoria-born hooker set about his rehab.

He was free to resume cardio training, but it was felt that a return to full-contact sessions were still a few months off.

His return to action in the 67th minute against the Ospreys last weekend was the stuff of fairy tales. In fact, it is a tale which wouldn't look out of place on a Hollywood script. He picks up the story.

"To come back so quickly after the surgery was a surprise for me because I hoped to be back playing after six months", Strauss reflected earlier this week.

"I spoke to our medical team at Leinster and went for a check-up with the cardiologist a few weeks back before Christmas. My wife Megan and I went home for a break to South Africa and when I came back I went for another check-up and he told me that he was happy for me to return to full training.

"I have been off medication a few weeks now and am feeling good and healthy. To get back playing is the perfect way to start the new year after what has been a tough few months, especially for my family. So last week when Matt (O'Connor) told me that I was going to be in the squad for the Ospreys game, it was a great surprise."

Strauss could be forgiven for feeling down on his luck given the curveball that life threw at him over the last few months, but he is pragmatic about the past and positive about the future.

His only major frustration now, he says with a smile, is that the break in the season has come at a time when he is craving game time.

"Yeah, the timing (of the break) isn't great. But I can't really complain as I have come back three months quicker than anticipated. It has been a tough time for my wife and she was quite nervous last week.

"As a player you always tend to be nervous before big games, but I was really excited as well. It was like that all week. As players you're in a fortunate position especially because you know your own body. But for those closest to you, it can be hard.

"I'd say she was watching those 13 minutes with her hands over her eyes. I was talking to my parents last Sunday and they were relieved and delighted as well to see me back fit and healthy. It was all about getting the first game out of the way. It felt great to be back and I'm looking forward now to hopefully getting some PRO12 games under my belt over the next few weeks."

WORK

With the squad enjoying a week off, Strauss has been hard at work in the gym. "I've had long enough off," he said with a steely grin and the kind of intent which has been the hallmark of his style of play since joining the province in 2009.

Last weekend he watched the various European sub-plots unfold and when 5pm rolled around last Sunday evening, he allowed himself a wry smile as the prospect of a trip to Toulon was confirmed.

"As a player you want to test yourself against the best sides and Toulon are one of the most exciting teams in world rugby. I spent the whole weekend with the feet up watching the different games. At one stage it looked like we were going to be travelling to Clermont or Limerick, but we got Toulon and we'll look forward to it when we get close to it.

"It's a really exciting draw and we know that we're going to have to put in one of our best ever performances in Europe to get through to the semi-finals.

"Their crowd are very vocal, the stadium looks good and it seems to be a rugby-mad town so that should make for an exciting game. And their team? It's like a fantasy rugby squad. They have world-class players in every position and they have been in great form this year after winning the Heineken Cup last year.

"I would have played against the likes of Bakkies (Botha) and Bryan (Habana) back in South Africa, Juan Smith is a good friend and we played together back with the Cheetahs. Michael Claassens, who used to play with Bath, is also a good friend. So it will be good to see them.

"One of the great aspects about rugby is the travel side of things and meeting old friends from the past. I haven't been in touch with those guys yet about this game. I'd say we'll probably put the friendships to one side until afterwards."

Before April comes around, attention will switch back to the PRO12 and Strauss knows that this is the stage of the season where the province can lay the foundations for the last sprint for silverware.

"We are in a good position in the league and these blocks of games in November and now in the Six Nations are where you can cement your place in the top four. There's a massive responsibility for those of us who are not with Ireland to keep getting wins and keep putting pressure on.

"It's an exciting time and we know that we have to keep improving."

After the curveball, Strauss is focused and primed for battle. He's back, alright, back with a bang.


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