Tuesday 21 November 2017

Richardt the Leinster Lionheart

Explosive Strauss displays at hooker impossible for Ireland to ignore

Hugh Farrelly

The tags applied to Richardt Strauss following his phenomenal contribution this season tend to be size-related and rather obvious, along the lines of 'Pocket Rocket' and 'Duracell Bunny.'

'Tricky Dicky' would be appropriate given opponents' futile attempts to prevent the Leinster hooker's progress in the loose; or maybe 'Mr T' referencing the seemingly superfluous consonant at the end of Strauss' first name as well as the vertically challenged, but immensely powerful actor who wore pumps to make him appear more menacing in 'Rocky 3.'

'Richardt The Lionheart' would work for Greg Feek, judging by the Leinster scrum coach's extolling of his hooker's capacity to overcome his size deficiency in a world of giants.

"Straussy wasn't born a big man but he has got a hell of a big heart," said the former All Black loose-head yesterday.

"He's dynamic, you see that with his ball-carrying, and when a player has that explosiveness you should be able to use it somewhere confrontationally and the forwards always need it at scrum time.

"His technique has to be right in terms of getting low. It's difficult for bigger guys to go up against him when he's in a good position.

"So, he has to make sure that he does that right. And big men, they fall further and he knows that too," added Feek. "A lot of the qualities that he has, you'd love to be able to put in some big men too."

Strauss qualifies for Ireland next year and, wherever you stand on the 'project' process of bought-in internationals, there is no question regarding the fact he would be a significant asset to call on.

There are very few, if any, small hookers left in international rugby (England's Lee Mears was badly exposed on the 2009 Lions Tour), but Feek has no doubts about Strauss' capacity to step up a level.

In the Heineken Cup semi-final, the South African was pitted against French colossus William Servat, rated one of the top hookers and foremost scrummagers in the game. It was a considerable challenge against a Toulouse scrum that destroyed Leinster at the same stage last year, but Strauss and Co came through, helping provide the platform for a thrilling victory.

"I think he got a huge amount out of marking Servat a few weeks ago," said Feek. "He really felt that after that game.

"To be able to play in the Heineken Cup against those big teams, you learn from it and you think, 'yes I do have to get all my Is dotted and my Ts crossed in terms of what I do individually.' It becomes a game within a game sometimes in that sense."

Feek also backed Kevin McLaughlin to fill the second-row/back-row role in Ireland's World Cup squad later this year after the blind-side put in an effective shift at lock in last Friday's hammering of Glasgow.

"Yeah, he's a handy man to have in the squad. He gets on with it, so I think it's good for his career as well to be able to do the lock-six role. It's quite a unique role you've got to play, combining both positions, particularly getting the set-piece stuff right.

"He's obviously good in the line-out, too, so hopefully it's something that he can grow."

Northampton will bring a scrum arguably even more powerful than Toulouse's to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup final on Saturday week, but the immediate challenge is Ulster in the Magners League semi-final at the RDS.

Tom Court, Rory Best and Paddy McAllister or Declan Fitzpatrick are the likely starting front-row tomorrow night and Feek expects a difficult set-piece test, despite the fact that Leinster have beaten them home and away already this season.

"They will be missing BJ (Botha), but they have got good loose forwards and (Johann) Muller's there as well, he really strengthens their set-piece and they have got a good half-back obviously in (Ruan) Pienaar.

"They have given us the hurry-up in both games, although the scoreline might not have reflected that. We need to be on our game, this is the knock-out phase now, whereas before it was Magners League round-robin and there were Heineken Cup games going on around that time as well."

Feek, who contrary to the utterings of Os du Randt is to continue overseeing the Ireland scrum up to and through the World Cup, has been a huge success at provincial and international level this season, with Leinster providing both Irish props in Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

However, he deflects any credit on to the talent at his disposal and the right attitude within his forward unit while also demanding a raising of standards this week.

"You can't build a house if you don't have the right architecture to get it up there. It's a combination, everyone's got to have the right attitude and front up at the end of the day.

"Last week against Glasgow we let ourselves down a bit," added Feek. "I was a bit disappointed after the weekend. Good teams need to be at a level every week. Against Ulster this week, they're a difficult pack and we can't afford to have any more up-and-down periods.

"We're demanding from the boys and the boys themselves are demanding to get our stuff right, the little things right and the attitude right."

Speculation

There has been plenty of speculation as to the make-up of Leinster's selection for tomorrow's clash with the likeliest scenario a team that will closely resemble the one that runs out the following week against Northampton. However, there is also the psychological aspect to playing the week before the 'big one' and Feek is adamant that there will be no holding back by anyone.

"This is a knock-out game and we want to win it," stressed Feek. "Ulster are a team you have to respect. They have Rory Best up front, right up to the backs, and it's something we need to be on our game with.

"The boys don't play rugby each week and think, 'oh jeez, am I going to get injured this week?'.

"You play rugby because you enjoy it and to win, they're the two things, and you just have to get your mindset right."

If anyone is looking for an example to follow, Strauss would be a good place to start.

Irish Independent

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