Coach reveals Strauss 'attitude' key to selection
PERHAPS the only surprising thing about Richardt Strauss' selection for the Ireland squad for the November internationals is that it has taken so long for a player to represent this country having qualified through residency.
The 26-year-old dreamed of wearing a different shade of green than the one he will don next month against his native land when he grew up in Bloemfontein, but when he made his decision to join Leinster in 2009 he opened the door to playing for a country he had never been to before landing here in November of that year.
There will be eyebrows raised at the fact that he has been selected for the national squad ahead of his long-term club rival Sean Cronin and Munster duo Damien Varley and Mike Sherry, all of whom were born here, but no one can doubt the fact that Strauss has been excellent for the European champions in recent seasons.
Other nations were quicker to exploit the rules around residency, with England having controversially fielded a host of players with no prior link to the country over the past few years, Riki Flutey being the most notable example.
Ireland last dabbled in the capping of residency-qualified players during the 1990s when New Zealanders Kurt McQuilken and Andy Ward wore the green jersey after being signed for Irish clubs.
Others have qualified through a parent or grandparent, but the difference with Strauss is that he was brought into the Irish system with a view to filling a spot on the Irish roster, despite having no direct connection to the country itself.
The provinces can sign two types of foreign players under the IRFU system, front-line 'stars' like Rocky Elsom, John Afoa and Jean de Villiers or young guns like Jared Payne, Quinn Roux and Strauss, who are brought to the clubs with the long-term idea of playing for Ireland.
It could be seen as a cynical ploy that devalues the international game, but it is the reality of modern rugby and Declan Kidney made no apologies.
"If you like, them's the rules," he said. "Everybody is doing it. I saw New Zealand and Australia slagging each other off about it recently.
"Richardt, in fairness to him, he has bought into everything Leinster is doing. He has put his hand up. Attitude is the one thing you can't coach and that is why we have selected him."
Ireland forwards coach and Strauss' compatriot Gert Smal has seen the hooker, who won the U-19 World Cup with South Africa, blossom since joining Leinster.
"He is a different player to the last two years," he said. "He has bulked up quite a bit. His performances speak for themselves. We know what he can do for a pack. For the past two years he has really come through quite strongly.
"It is not just because he is South African, we look at all hookers, we don't discount anybody, but what he can bring to a team is his attitude, which is very good, good to pack down and good in the scrums and we will have to work with him in the line-outs and see how he goes."
The player himself has long been diplomatic on his Ireland chances, but once he trained with the squad during last season's Six Nations his promotion looked inevitable.
And if he can show as much for Ireland as he does on regular basis for Leinster, then there is no doubting his value as a player -- no matter what sort of taste his selection leaves in those patriotic mouths.