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Strauss salutes 'special' success


Leinster's Richardt Strauss. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Richardt Strauss. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Richardt Strauss. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

IT HAS been a whirlwind few days in the life of Richardt Strauss.

In fact, it has been a whirlwind few years. When the summer tour to America closes, the Pretoria-born hooker will no doubt look back at the events which have unfolded in the blink of an eye over the course of the last campaign.

It has been a season where he earned his first international stripes back in November before an ankle injury ruled him out for a significant portion of the season.

That hiatus occurred at a frustrating time for the team, not least the player himself.

But as he prepares to depart for the land of opportunity this weekend, he smiled as he reflected on a satisfying finale to a memorable campaign.

"The last few weeks have been really exciting for everyone connected with Leinster. The last four or five games have been knock-outs essentially and it was brilliant to get our hands on the PRO12 trophy last weekend, which was the icing on the cake.

"To win the league you use a bigger pool of players, whereas in Europe you're really working off around 30 players over the group or knockout stages. Usually the team is fairly consistent although that wasn't the case this year: The test for us was managing a lot of player unavailability and injuries, and coming through those setbacks to make it into the final four.

"The game against Ulster wasn't our best performance of the season – and there were some nervous moments in the second half – but we held on and showed a lot of character. After having been involved in two league finals which we lost before, it was satisfying to get the win.

"Having lost a few times at the final hurdle before, it definitely resonated with us more as a group to finally get the win. It was a weight off our shoulders and a great relief. It has been a really special campaign."

Taking a few steps back, Strauss kicked off the campaign a Leinster man born in South Africa – and in November he received his first call up to the Ireland senior panel for the Autumn series and played an important role in the narrow loss to South Africa and in the victory over Argentina – where he was a try-scorer.

All was going well until a double setback in January when, despite the province's brave 10 points from 10, Leinster failed to secure a Heineken Cup quarter-final berth.

To make it worse, in the closing stages of the game where Leinster picked up a bonus-point win, Strauss picked up the injury which would sideline him for two months.

It was, he admits, frustrating.

"Of course it was difficult being injured at that time, but it was a bigger blow to go out of the Heineken Cup because we had dug deep after losing to Clermont in December and we put ourselves in the best possible place to get out of what was a tough group. But it wasn't to be.

"I really enjoyed playing for Ireland and it was a huge honour for me to be selected in November.

"Having missed the Six Nations there's a great opportunity for those of us who haven't played that much international rugby to hopefully get some more experience.

"I've never been to America before and I've spent the last few weeks reading up on the country.

"We have some big tests coming up and whoever gets the opportunity – be it myself, Mike Sherry or Nugget (Seán Cronin) – we'll be pushing ourselves forward.

"It should be a memorable trip."

Upon the end of the tour, Strauss will link up with his wife Megan for a trip back home where he plans to take time out from the game and enjoy the simpler life on his family farm. On the return leg to South Africa, they will stop over in Abu Dhabi before the pre-season programme kicks in.

But this time the landscape will be different. A new coach will be to the fore directing matters, while one of his closest friends will be pursuing his career in a new country. Strauss believes that the losses of coach Joe Schmidt, Isa Nacewa and Jonathan Sexton will be significant, but says that of the six other players who are moving to new chapters in their lives, he will miss one of his closest friends for his contribution on and off the field.

"It's going to be a lot different when we come back after the summer and we will miss Joe, Isa, Johnny and all of the departing players because they have played big parts in our recent success. From a personal and collective point of view I also think that Heinke (van der Merwe) will go down as one of the province's best overseas signings.

"Off the field the guys loved him. He's a very positive guy with a good sense of humour and I know he'll be a big success in Paris with Stade Français.

"He's a real professional and his set-piece play on the field was very important. He brought a lot of consistency to the front row and it has been great to see Jack (McGrath) come in over the last few weeks and take over from Heinke.

"He has big shoes to fill, but the experiences that he has gained will stand to him. Alongside Cian (Healy) and some of the other young props coming through, we've a lot to look forward to.

"But that's the thing about life and about sport. Things move on and so do people and all you can do is thank them for their contribution and wish them well. We have great memories behind us and with the Academy guys doing so well in the British and Irish Cup, there are exciting times ahead for Leinster."

Exciting times indeed.