PRETORIA - His brain says Australia, but his heart is undoubtedly in the green and gold of the Springboks. But heart alone won’t be enough to guide the Springboks to victory in their upcoming Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies in Perth, according to former Springbok and Wallaby Tiaan Strauss.
The hard and uncompromising loose forward that Strauss was in his playing days was a trait that was appreciated by the Australians in the late 1990s and earned the former Western Province captain 11 caps for the Wallabies including a World Cup winner's medal in 1999 after his exploits were rejected by his country of birth.
But Strauss remains a South African and Springbok at heart and believes that the air of optimism and confidence sweeping through the Bok team at the moment, and a dominant forward onslaught, should do the trick and earn the South Africans their first win in Perth since 2009.
“There is definitely a culture of change in the team and this year they had a lot more time to prepare. They obviously set some good performance indicators and the ethos of how they want to train and where they are going," strauss remarked.
"You can see the guys are playing for each other and there is a determination that wasn’t there last year. It is great to see that they wear the jersey with pride again and that makes the old Boks happy,” said Strauss.
But key to victory over a revived Wallabies side will be how the Springbok forwards continue to grow and take charge of the set-pieces and the other "dark areas". Strauss is adamant that control of the set-pieces, an effective rolling maul and winning the physical war of attrition that often plays itself out amongst the forwards will be enough to hand the Springboks their sixth win on the trot this year.
“What stood out for me this year is that our set phase has been very good, kick-offs, lineouts and scrums. We can disrupt them in those phases and driving mauls and we must dominate and control in that forward area which can set us up well to win the game," Strauss added.
"And also we mustn’t give them a lot of ball from kicks, we must be able to kick the ball out or compete for it. If we are going to give them a lot of ball, they have some potent backs who are going to punish you.”
However, Strauss has been impressed by the sudden turnaround of the Wallabies in their narrow defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin.
Even though the Wallabies lost their second game in the competition 12 days ago, Strauss has joined the growing chorus of rugby realists who all believe that the Australians are a far better outfit than the results of this year suggest and will be a formidable adversary for the Springboks on Saturday.
“If you look at the Wallabies side and the individual players, it is a good team. They haven’t done well in the Super Rugby this year but the team they have got together for the Wallabies is actually a quality side," he said.
"There are small things that can turn a team around and they showed it with a lot more dedication on defence in Dunedin. (Their defence) was poor in their first game. A few things went their way and it is a pity they could not pull it off because I thought they were the better team on the day (in Dunedin),” Strauss said.
“They can continue it. If you look at the players, they are quality. It is a matter of gelling together and playing with some heart and determination. There is definitely a sign that they can turn it around and be a better team.”